Larger belly in mid-life increases risk of dementia

March 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 Academy of Neurology.

The study involved 6,583 people age 40 to 45 in northern California who had their abdominal fat measured. An average of 36 years later, 16 percent of the participants had been diagnosed with dementia. The study found that those with the highest amount of abdominal fat were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia than those with the lowest amount of abdominal fat.

“Considering that 50 percent of adults in this country have an unhealthy amount of abdominal fat, this is a disturbing finding,” said study author Rachel A. Whitmer, PhD, a Research Scientist of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, CA, and member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Research needs to be done to determine what the mechanisms are that link abdominal obesity and 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.

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.

A large belly in mid-life has also been shown to increase the risk of diabetes, stroke, and coronary heart disease, but this is the first time researchers have demonstrated that it also increases risk of dementia.

In the study, women were more likely than men to have abdominal obesity, along with non-whites, smokers, people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, and those with less than a high school level of education.

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.

“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,” Whitmer said. “These findings imply that the dangerous effects of abdominal obesity on the brain may start long before the signs of dementia appear.”

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Explore further: Is a pear—or apple-shape physique best for our brains?

Related Stories

Is a pear—or apple-shape physique best for our brains?

January 29, 2018
With the new year still ringing, many of us have fat on our minds, but Dr. Alexis M. Stranahan is more interested in what fat does to our minds.

Compounds derived from hops show promise for metabolic syndrome patients

February 5, 2018
A group of compounds derived from hops can likely improve cognitive and other functions in people with metabolic syndrome, new research at Oregon State University and Oregon Health & Science University suggests.

The effects of obesity on cognitive decline in middle-aged and older African Americans

May 8, 2017
Obesity has the potential to raise an older adult's risk for having difficulty thinking and making decisions (also known as "cognitive decline" or dementia). It is a complex health concern. Body mass index (BMI) is a scale ...

Obesity linked to poorer mental skills in seniors

March 22, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Obesity is associated with reduced memory and thinking skills in adults aged 60 to 70, especially those with greater amounts of abdominal fat, according to a new study.

UK Biobank launches world's biggest body scanning project

April 14, 2016
The world's largest health imaging study, funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) is launched today. It will create the biggest collection of scans of internal organs, ...

AIDS virus may accelerate aging, scientists say

June 8, 2011
Heart attacks out of the blue, bottom-scraping testosterone levels, nerve damage and bone-withering osteoporosis are not regarded as the normal fate of a man in his 40s or early 50s. Stuart Smith did not expect to have to ...

Recommended for you

Past encounters with the flu shape vaccine response

February 20, 2018
New research on why the influenza vaccine was only modestly effective in recent years shows that immune history with the flu influences a person's response to the vaccine.

Building better tiny kidneys to test drugs and help people avoid dialysis

February 16, 2018
A free online kidney atlas built by USC researchers empowers stem cell scientists everywhere to generate more human-like tiny kidneys for testing new drugs and creating renal replacement therapies.

Expanding Hepatitis C testing to all adults is cost-effective and improves outcomes

February 16, 2018
According to a new study, screening all adults for hepatitis C (HCV) is a cost-effective way to improve clinical outcomes of HCV and identify more infected people compared to current recommendations. Using a simulation model, ...

Study suggests expanded range for emerging tick-borne disease

February 16, 2018
Human cases of Borrelia miyamotoi, a tick-borne infection with some similarities to Lyme disease, were discovered in the eastern United States less than a decade ago. Now new research led by the Yale School of Public Health ...

IFN-mediated immunity to influenza A virus infection influenced by RIPK3 protein

February 15, 2018
Each year, influenza kills half a million people globally with the elderly and very young most often the victims. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 37 children have died in the United States ...

Flu shot only 36 percent effective, making bad year worse (Update)

February 15, 2018
The flu vaccine is doing a poor job protecting older Americans and others against the bug that's causing most illnesses.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SDMike
not rated yet Mar 27, 2008
Article failed to specify "normal". What amount of belly fat is "normal"? If only those middle aged humans with a "six pack" are likely to escape Alzheimer's, then I'm investing in nursing home stock!

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.