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Alzheimer’s disease affects over 40 million people worldwide. With this number expected to jump to over 70 million by 2030, it’s become of vital importance to understand the disease better. As there is currently no cure for the condition, research has been focused on how to mitigate risk, and a recent study has suggested that burning belly fat may serve to protect your brain from cognitive decline.

Abdominal fat and Alzheimer’s

A group of researchers set out to examine the association between belly fat and brain health, as well as cognition. 

“The pathology that develops in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients begins in middle age,” Dr. Michal Schnaider Beeri,, director of the Herbert and Jacqueline Krieger Klein Alzheimer’s Research Center at Rutgers Brain Health Institute and senior author of this study, explained to Medical News.

“Also, the associations of risk factors — such as obesity — with Alzheimer’s (are) strongest when the risk factors evolve in midlife. So we have a great interest in focusing (on) midlife as a critical epoch for potential prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.”

For the study, researchers drew on the data of 204 participants whose parents had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. These individuals were cognitively asymptomatic, had an average age of 59, and were 60% female.

The researchers then used MRI’s to measure the amounts of fat in the subjects’ liver, abdomen, and pancreas. In addition to thus, the researchers also had the participants undergo structural volumetric brain MRIs, which measured specific brain regions related to Alzheimer’s that included hippocampus (learning and memory), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) (speech production), middle frontal gyrus (MFG) (literacy and numeracy) and superior frontal gyrus (SFG) (working memory, spatial processing, impulse control).

Belly Fat Affects Brain Health

Per the study’s findings, published in Obesity, an association was identified between abdominal fat and an increased risk for lower cognitive function as the study revealed that higher pancreatic fat was correlated to lower cognition and smaller volumes of brain regions linked to Alzheimer’s, more so in men.

While they don’t understand why the findings were more pronounced in men, Dr. Nisha Patel, an obesity medicine physician in San Francisco who was not involved in the study, told Fortune that the disparity may be because men and women store body fat differently, 

“Men [have] more visceral adiposity from the get-go, and then women catch up when they transition through menopause. What really happens because of the low estrogen is a repartitioning of fat.”

Speaking more on the study’s findings, Beeri explained that, 

“What seems to happen is that when fat is sitting on a certain organ, the fat itself or the organ has certain secreted factors that are not secreted in a normal way. Some of those cross the blood-brain barrier and then they do the damage or, alternatively, they’re protective.”

Speaking more on the findings, Beeri shared the association as the poorly functional pancreas is associated with an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, which is a well-documented risk factor for dementia,

“Diabetes and pre-diabetes — which occur because of impaired pancreatic function — are consistently associated with a higher risk of dementia, and our study suggests the involvement of pancreatic fat in this association.”

Burning Belly Fat

Despite the findings, future studies are needed to confirm the results, preferably with a larger sample size and including people without a family history of Alzheimer’s.

That said, it is important to promote brain health, and adopting habits that burn belly fat can help to achieve this. 

For instance, not only does exercising help to burn belly fat, but it can also keep your brain healthy – as can following a healthy, plant-based diet, getting enough sleep and managing your stress levels, which can be done with mediation, journaling and yoga.

Want to know more?

Until recently, no blood test has been available for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, but some have been developed to measure various biomarkers.

References

Golan Shekhtman S, Boccara E, Ravona-Springer R, et al. Abdominal fat depots are related to lower cognitive functioning and brain volumes in middle-aged males at high Alzheimer’s risk. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2024; 1-14. doi:10.1002/oby.24004

MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya/Pexels
Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a journalist graduate and writer, specializing in health, beauty, and wellness. She also has a passion for poetry, equality, and natural hair. Identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to provide the latest information on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle and leave a more equitable society behind.

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