New research presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America suggests that middle-aged adults with visceral fat in their belly may have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The study found that the presence of belly fat could trigger changes in the brain related to Alzheimer’s up to 15 years before symptoms appear. The study focused on associations between amyloid and tau proteins, which interfere with cellular communication in the brain, and factors such as high body mass index (BMI), obesity, insulin resistance, and fatty abdominal tissue. The researchers discovered that higher levels of visceral fat were linked to increased inflammation in the brain. Interestingly, the study found that the relationship between belly fat and Alzheimer’s was stronger in men than in women.
The lead researcher, Dr. Mahsa Dolatshahi, emphasized the significance of the study, as it is the first to link a specific type of fat to the actual Alzheimer’s disease protein in cognitively normal individuals. She noted the need for further research to determine whether the link between visceral fat and Alzheimer’s is a cause or effect and to investigate the differential role of visceral and subcutaneous fat. Another expert, Dr. Mary Ellen Koran, emphasized the importance of conducting more studies to define the link between visceral fat and brain health. She also mentioned the need to explore what constitutes a “normal” amount of visceral fat.
The findings of the study could potentially lead to earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease in individuals at risk. Dr. Cyrus Raji, one of the senior study authors, highlighted the importance of moving beyond BMI to better understand the anatomical distribution of body fat. He suggested that imaging techniques, such as MRI, could provide a non-invasive way to evaluate visceral fat in the body. The study also suggests that reducing belly fat through regular aerobic exercise may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
While the study provides valuable insights, the researchers acknowledged the need for more research to determine the long-term effects of drugs, such as Ozempic, on visceral fat and brain health. Although some medications have been approved for weight loss, further investigation is required to understand their potential benefits in reducing belly fat and their impact on brain health. Overall, the study highlights the importance of addressing belly fat as a potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and the potential benefits of lifestyle interventions, such as exercise and healthy diets, in reducing this risk.