Men with belly fat at risk for osteoporosis

November 28, 2012

Visceral, or deep belly, obesity is a risk factor for bone loss and decreased bone strength in men, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

"It is important for men to be aware that excess belly fat is not only a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes, it is also a risk factor for ," said Miriam Bredella, M.D., radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 37 million American men over age 20 are obese. Obesity is associated with many health problems, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, , asthma, and joint diseases. Yet despite all the health issues, it was commonly accepted that men with increased body weight were at lower risk for bone loss.

"Most studies on osteoporosis have focused on women. Men were thought to be relatively protected against bone loss, especially obese men," Dr. Bredella said.

But not all body fat is the same. Subcutaneous fat lies just below the skin, and visceral or intra-abdominal fat is located deep under the muscle tissue in the . Genetics, diet and exercise are all contributors to the level of visceral fat that is stored in the body. Excess visceral fat is considered particularly dangerous, because in previous studies it has been associated with increased risk for heart disease.

After the in Men Study—a multi-center observational study designed to determine risk factors for osteoporosis—indicated that male obesity was associated with fracture risk, the researchers wanted to quantify belly fat and study its impact on .

Dr. Bredella and her team evaluated 35 obese men with a mean age of 34 and a mean (BMI) of 36.5. The men underwent CT of the abdomen and thigh to assess fat and muscle mass, as well as very high resolution CT of the forearm and a technique called finite element analysis (FEA), in order to assess bone strength and predict .

"FEA is a technique that is frequently used in mechanical engineering to determine the strength of materials for the design of bridges or airplanes, among other things," Dr. Bredella said. "FEA can determine where a structure will bend or break and the amount of force necessary to make the material break. We can now use FEA to determine the strength or force necessary to make a bone break."

In the study, the FEA analysis showed that men with higher visceral and total abdominal fat had lower failure load and stiffness, two measures of bone strength, compared to those with less visceral and abdominal fat. There was no association found between age or total BMI and bone mechanical properties.

"We were not surprised by our results that abdominal and visceral fat are detrimental to bone strength in obese men," Dr. Bredella said. "We were, however, surprised that obese men with a lot of visceral fat had significantly decreased bone strength compared to with low visceral fat but similar BMI."

The results also showed that muscle mass was positively associated with bone strength.

Explore further: Fat transplantation can have metabolic benefits

Related Stories

Fat transplantation can have metabolic benefits

May 6, 2008

When transplanted deep into the abdomen, fat taken from just under the skin comes with metabolic benefits, or at least it does in mice, reveals a new study in the May issue of Cell Metabolism.

Belly fat puts women at risk for osteoporosis

November 30, 2010

For years, it was believed that obese women were at lower risk for developing osteoporosis, and that excess body fat actually protected against bone loss. However, a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological ...

Growth hormone increases bone formation in obese women

November 29, 2011

In a new study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), growth hormone replacement for six months was found to increase bone formation in abdominally obese women.

Recommended for you

Team discovers how Zika virus causes fetal brain damage

August 24, 2016

Infection by the Zika virus diverts a key protein necessary for neural cell division in the developing human fetus, thereby causing the birth defect microcephaly, a team of Yale scientists reported Aug. 24 in the journal ...

Zika infection may affect adult brain cells

August 18, 2016

Concerns over the Zika virus have focused on pregnant women due to mounting evidence that it causes brain abnormalities in developing fetuses. However, new research in mice from scientists at The Rockefeller University and ...

Immune breakthrough: Unscratching poison ivy's rash

August 23, 2016

We all know that a brush with poison ivy leaves us with an itchy painful rash. Now, Monash University and Harvard researchers have discovered the molecular cause of this irritation. The finding brings us a step closer to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.