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Over 60 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s disease. With this number expected to reach 78 million within 7 years, it’s important to invest resources in finding ways to mitigate the disease. Now, it appears that targeting belly fat may serve to reduce the risk. 

Belly Fat and Alzheimer’s

There are two types of fat that exist in the body; subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.

Subcutaneous fat makes up 90% of the body, and it’s the type of fat that you can pinch. Visceral fat can’t be pinched as it hides deep in your belly, wrapping itself around your organs. According to experts, visceral fat is more dangerous. This is because too much of it can increase the risk for health issues that include diabetes, and possibly, Alzheimer’s. 

In a recent study, researchers sought to examine the link between visceral fat and Alzheimer’s. 

“Even though there have been other studies linking BMI with brain atrophy or even a higher dementia risk, no prior study has linked a specific type of fat to the actual Alzheimer’s disease protein in cognitively normal people,” explained lead author Dr. Mahsa Dolatshahi, a postdoctoral research fellow at Washington University School of Medicine, in a press statement. 

The team, alongside senior author Dr. Cyrus Raji, associate professor of radiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, analyzed the data of 54 cognitively healthy volunteers ages 40 to 60 with an average BMI of 32. The team also measured various health parameters, as well as the amount of subcutaneous and visceral fat. 

The team also used MRIs to measure the thickness of the cortex, which becomes thinner as Alzheimer’s progresses, and PET scans to determine the levels of tau and amyloid proteins, both of which are associated with Alzheimer’s.

Does Belly Fat Cause Alzheimer’s?

Per the findings of the study, published in Aging and Disease, excess visceral fat was associated with a “higher amount of an abnormal protein called amyloid in a part of the brain that we know is one of the earliest places where Alzheimer’s occurs.”

The study also noted an association between visceral fat and brain atrophy, which is the wasting away of gray matter found in part of the brain’s memory center.

“That’s important because brain atrophy is another biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease,” explained Dr. Raji.

Furthermore, the team noted that the male participants experienced more of a relationship between their belly fat and amyloid. This is because they tend to have more visceral fat than women.

“We also found that the individuals with higher amounts of visceral fat tend to have more inflammation in widespread white matter tracks in the brain,” said Dr. Dolatshahi. White matter forms connections between brain cells and the rest of the nervous system. Any disruption can affect the brain’s ability to communicate with different parts of the brain and the body.

As Alzheimer’s often develops in the brain 20 years before the first symptoms appear, Dr. Raji and the team plan to analyze the potential long-term impact of visceral fat by following up on the study’s participants.

As such, it is clear that more research is needed to confirm their findings.

Losing visceral fat

Excess visceral fat is never a good thing, regardless of its potential association with Alzheimer’s. So, it is important for people, of all shapes and sizes, to manage the amount of visceral fat they have.

Following a healthy diet and an exercise routine that includes cardio and strength training, monitoring alcohol intake, and getting enough sleep can serve to reduce your belly fat, as well as your risk for Alzheimer’s. 

References

https://www.alzint.org/about/dementia-facts-figures/dementia-statistics/

Dongmei Jia , Fenghe Zhang , Huining Li , Yi Shen , Zhao Jin , Fu-Dong Shi , Chao Zhang. Responsiveness to Tocilizumab in Anti-Acetylcholine Receptor-Positive Generalized Myasthenia Gravis. Aging and disease. 2023 https://doi.org/10.14336/AD.2023.0528

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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