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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Belly Fat in Midlife, Dementia Later?

Study Shows Getting a Big Belly in Midlife Ups Risk of Dementia Later in Life

Belly Fat and Dementia Risk continued...

Not everyone who is overweight has a big belly, and some normal-weight people carry excess belly fat. So the researchers looked at the effects of both weight and belly fat.

The worst scenario was being obese with a lot of belly fat. "If you are obese with a big belly, the risk of dementia is 3.6 times [the risk of those with normal weight and low belly fat," Whitmer tells WebMD.

People of normal weight but with excess belly fat had a 1.89 times higher risk of getting dementia than those of normal weight and no excess belly fat.

The study is published online in Neurology.

Belly Fat and Health: How Much Is Too Much?

How to tell if your belly fat is a health risk? Men who have a waist circumference over 40 inches and women with a waist circumference over 35 inches are at greater risk, says Whitmer, citing National Institutes of Health guidelines.

While Whitmer's study didn't look at why belly fat increases dementia risk, she can speculate. "We are hypothesizing that the mechanism must have something to do with some of the substances the belly fat secretes," she says, "and those may have an effect on the brain."

Second Opinions

The study results make sense to two other experts not involved in the research. "It fits quite nicely with all the other data that suggest vascular risk factors are also risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer's disease," says William H. Thies, PhD, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago.

While the study didn't investigate whether reducing belly fat reduces risk, Thies says, it's still a good idea for those with big bellies to work on reducing them through diet and exercise. "Ultimately there is enough data in other places to say changing your central obesity [belly fat] is good for your health."

"It's another piece of information that midlife cardiovascular risk factors are not just bad for your heart, they are bad for your brain," says David Bennett, MD, director of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

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