Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning, such as thinking, remembering, and reasoning, as well as behavioral abilities. It is severe enough to interfere with the daily life and activities of an individual. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.
Earlier studies have shown that overweight adults tend to have problems in memory and visuospatial tasks. However, whether this connection continues into older age is not fully understood. Therefore, a team of researchers from the Republic of Ireland and the U.K. looked at the possible connection between belly fat and cognitive abilities in adults aged 60 years and above. For this purpose, they pooled data from the Trinity Ulster Department of Agriculture aging cohort study which included 5,186 participants who were assessed using various cognitive tests. (Related: Belly Fat Linked to Dementia, Alzheimer's Later in Life.)
The research team found that the measure of belly fat in this population is associated with cognitive impairment. In particular, those with a higher waist-to-hip ratio had reduced cognitive performance. According to the report, only 16 percent of men and 26 percent of women had a BMI within the normal range, which is between 18.5 and 24.9. Higher BMI measurements did not display the same trend. Instead, higher BMIs even protected cognitive function. This may be because BMI is not always a reliable measure of body fat as it only considers weight and height, according to the researchers.
The researchers believed that belly fat affects cognitive function because of the increased production of inflammatory markers, particularly C-reactive protein. This chemical is secreted in response to signals sent out by fat cells, and increased inflammation is a widely known risk for a decline in cognitive ability.
Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) also seemed to play a role. When the research team controlled HbA1C levels in their analysis, the significant effect of belly fat on cognition was reduced. HbA1C is a form of hemoglobin that is used to measure blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Cognitive impairment has been measured in people with diabetes, which may be due to insulin sensitivity in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in storing memory.
These findings, which were published in the British Journal of Nutrition, shed light on the possible solutions to prevent dementia. Today, Alzheimer's already affects 5.7 million Americans. By 2050, the number of people diagnosed with dementia is estimated to increase to nearly 16 million. The researchers believed that by reducing levels of obesity, the prevalence of dementia could also be reduced.
Losing your belly fat now will save you a ton of health problems later. Read more news stories and studies on preventing dementia by going to Dementia.news.