A recent study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America highlights a significant link between higher levels of visceral abdominal fat and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Visceral fat refers to the fat that surrounds internal organs deep in the belly. The study reveals that this hidden fat is associated with changes in the brain up to 15 years before the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease affects millions of Americans, with the number projected to reach nearly 13 million by 2050. The disorder disproportionately affects women, with one in every five women developing Alzheimer’s in their lifetime, compared to one in every ten men.
The study aimed to identify early signs of Alzheimer’s risk by examining the association between brain MRI volumes, levels of amyloid and tau, markers of Alzheimer’s disease, and various measures of adipose tissue, including body mass index (BMI), obesity, insulin resistance, and abdominal fat. Previous studies have linked BMI to brain atrophy and increased dementia risk, but this study is the first to focus specifically on the relationship between a specific type of fat and the Alzheimer’s disease protein in cognitively normal individuals.
The research team analyzed data from 54 cognitively healthy participants, aged 40 to 60, with an average BMI of 32. The participants underwent various tests, including glucose and insulin measurements, glucose tolerance tests, abdominal MRI scans to measure subcutaneous and visceral fat, brain MRI to assess cortical thickness, and PET scans to examine amyloid and tau pathology related to Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings indicated that individuals with higher levels of visceral fat had increased uptake of the amyloid PET tracer in the precuneus cortex, an area known to be affected early by amyloid pathology in Alzheimer’s disease. This association was more pronounced in men than in women. Additionally, higher measurements of visceral fat correlated with greater brain inflammation.
The study proposes that inflammatory secretions from visceral fat, as opposed to potentially protective effects of subcutaneous fat, contribute to brain inflammation—a crucial mechanism in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The implications of this research are significant for earlier diagnosis and intervention. By identifying the role of hidden fat in increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the study suggests that targeting visceral fat could modify the risk of future brain inflammation and dementia.
The study underscores the importance of moving beyond traditional measures like BMI to understand the distribution of body fat and its impact on health. With a better understanding of these factors, researchers may be able to develop more effective strategies for diagnosing, preventing, and treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Q: What is the link between abdominal fat and Alzheimer’s disease?
A: Higher levels of visceral abdominal fat have been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This hidden fat is associated with changes in the brain up to 15 years before Alzheimer’s symptoms appear.
Q: How many Americans are affected by Alzheimer’s disease?
A: More than 6 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, and this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million by 2050.
Q: Are men or women more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease?
A: Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, with one in every five women developing the condition in their lifetime, compared to one in every ten men.
Q: How was the study conducted?
A: The study analyzed data from 54 cognitively healthy participants aged 40 to 60. Various tests, including MRI scans and PET scans, were conducted to assess brain health and measure different types of fat.
Q: What are the implications of the study?
A: The study suggests that targeting visceral fat could modify the risk of future brain inflammation and dementia, leading to earlier diagnosis and intervention for Alzheimer’s disease. The findings also emphasize the importance of understanding the distribution of body fat beyond BMI.