Study shows that a larger abdomen in midlife increases risk of dementia

Mar 26, 2008

People in their 40s with larger stomachs have a higher risk for dementia when they reach their 70s, according to a study published in the March 26, 2008, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Previous studies have looked at central obesity (as determined by waist circumference) and body mass index in the elderly and its link to dementia risk. In addition, previous studies have shown that a large abdomen -- in midlife -- increases the risk of diabetes, stroke, and coronary heart disease. This is the first time researchers have demonstrated a longitudinal association between midlife belly fat and the risk of dementia.

Capturing abdominal obesity in midlife may be a much better indicator of the long term metabolic dysregulation that leads to dementia risk, said study author Rachel Whitmer, PhD, a research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, CA. Measuring abdomen size in older age people may not be as good an indicator because as people age they tend to naturally lose muscle and bone mass and gain belly size, she explained.

“Considering that 50 percent of adults in this country have abdominal obesity, this is a disturbing finding. It is well known that being overweight in midlife and beyond increases risk factors for disease. However, where one carries the weight –especially in midlife -- appears to be an important predictor for dementia risk,” she said.

“Autopsies have shown that changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease may start in young to middle adulthood, and another study showed that high abdominal fat in elderly adults was tied to greater brain atrophy. These findings imply that the dangerous effects of abdominal obesity on the brain may start long before the signs of dementia appear.” She explained that additional research needs to be completed to determine the underlying mechanisms that link abdominal obesity in midlife to dementia risk.

Researchers studied 6,583 people age 40 to 45 in northern California who had their abdominal density measured. Belly fat was measured by using a caliper to determine the distance from the back to the upper abdomen, midway between the top of the pelvis and the bottom of the ribs. Belly density is highly correlated with visceral fat tissue, the fat tissue that is wrapped around the organs, according to the researchers. An average of 36 years later, 16 percent of the participants had been diagnosed with dementia.

The study found that those who were overweight and had a large belly were 2.3 times more likely to develop dementia than people with a normal weight and belly size. People who were both obese and had a large belly were 3.6 times more likely to develop dementia than those of normal weight and belly size. Those who were overweight or obese but did not have a large abdomen had an 80-percent increased risk of dementia.

Having a large abdomen increased the risk of dementia regardless of whether the participants were of normal weight overall, overweight, or obese, and regardless of existing health conditions, including diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Non-whites, smokers, people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, and those with less than a high school level of education were more likely to have abdominal obesity.

As with all observational studies, it is possible that the association of the abdominal obesity and dementia is not driven by the abdominal obesity, but rather by a complex set of health-related behaviors, for which abdominal obesity is but one part.

Source: Kaiser Permanente Division of Research

Explore further: Growing a blood vessel in a week

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The truth about the war on wheat

Oct 03, 2014

If you believe the best-seller lists, the biggest bad in the supermarket aisles is not fat or sodium or sugar, but wheat. We have been warned that eating wheat makes our bellies fatter and triggers diseases ...

Excessive drinking may lead to poor brain health via obesity

Sep 07, 2010

Prior research has shown that alcohol abuse and dependence are typically associated with higher rates of obesity, as evidenced by a high body mass index (BMI). Findings from a new study of the relationship between BMI and ...

Larger belly in mid-life increases risk of dementia

Mar 25, 2008

People with larger stomachs in their 40s are more likely to have dementia when they reach their 70s, according to a study published in the March 26, 2008, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academ ...

Recommended for you

Growing a blood vessel in a week

17 hours ago

The technology for creating new tissues from stem cells has taken a giant leap forward. Three tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown ...

Testing time for stem cells

20 hours ago

DefiniGEN is one of the first commercial opportunities to arise from Cambridge's expertise in stem cell research. Here, we look at some of the fundamental research that enables it to supply liver and pancreatic ...

Team finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia

Oct 23, 2014

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause ...

Rapid test to diagnose severe sepsis

Oct 23, 2014

A new test, developed by University of British Columbia researchers, could help physicians predict within an hour if a patient will develop severe sepsis so they can begin treatment immediately.

User comments : 0