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Too Much Belly Fat Linked to Dementia

Study Shows Deep Belly Fat May Be Linked to Shrinkage in Brain Volume

Measuring Belly Fat continued...

She also found a link between higher BMI and higher waist circumference, but the strongest association was between high visceral belly fat and lower brain volume.

The average BMI of study participants was 28 (30 and above is termed obese, 25 and above overweight.) The average waist circumference was 39 inches. Women should keep waist circumference below 35 and men below 40, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Exactly why the belly fat reduces brain volume isn't known, Seshadri says. Inflammation may play a role, as obesity is linked with inflammation in the body.

Some research has found that people on anti-inflammatory drugs show smaller age-related volume changes in their brain than do those not on the drugs.

Hormones produced by visceral fat tissue could pay a role in brain shrinkage, too, she says.

Second Opinion

The study results are another reminder that paying attention to heart disease risk factors is also a good way to preserve your brain health, says William Thies, PhD, chief medical and scientific officer at the Alzheimer's Association.

"The key message in this study is another reason for people to keep good control over the factors that influence their heart health -- such as body weight, blood sugar, and blood pressure -- as an important way to also keep their brain healthy as they age, and possibly reduce their risk for cognitive decline and dementia."

But he also cautions that ''we don't have all the answers yet. You can do everything 'right' and still not prevent Alzheimer's."

Without a CT scan to measure belly fat, people can look to their BMI and waist measurement for a rough estimate of how much belly fat they carry, Seshadri says.

"If your BMI is in the obese range, it's 99% [certain] that you have too much visceral fat," she says. If your waist circumference is above 35 inches for women, above 40 inches for men, that's another good predictor, she says.

"If your BMI is under 25, you are probably OK,'' she says.

To reduce the dangerous visceral belly fat, she says, pay attention to diet and exercise regularly.

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