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Abdominal Fat Boosts Dementia Risk
Date:3/26/2008

were overweight -- a step below obese -- and had large bellies in their 40s were 2.3 times more likely to develop dementia.

Overall, 21 percent of those with high levels of belly fat developed dementia, compared to 15 percent of others, Whitmer said.

The effects of belly fat remained even when researchers adjusted their statistics to take into account the effect of conditions such as stroke and diabetes.

It's still possible that a factor other than abdominal fat may cause the higher rate of dementia. The study doesn't confirm a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Still, the findings suggest that something about abdominal body fat affects the brain independently of cardiovascular disease or diabetes, Whitmer noted.

It's not clear, however, exactly how obesity translates into reduced brain function. It may have something to do with how belly fat surrounds the body's organs and secretes hormones and toxic substances that could disrupt the way the brain functions, Whitmer speculated.

William Thies, vice president of medical and scientific relations with the Alzheimer's Association, said another theory is that the physical presence of belly fat and its compression of abdominal organs could burden the entire body, affecting the brain by increasing blood pressure and cholesterol. However, "whether there's a direct biological link between body fat and Alzheimer's has yet to be established," he said.

Whatever the cause for the connection, all hope is not lost.

"Even with moderate exercise, you can reduce that visceral fat, the fat around the organs," Whitmer said, adding that there's a lot of evidence that the roots of dementia develop years before it becomes obvious, so a change now could spell a big benefit later.

More information

To learn more about proper weight loss, visit the National Women's Health Information
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