Belly fat becomes stubborn the more we age. And while it’s easy to gain and hard to get rid of, a new study suggests midlife weight gain – in particular the accumulation of visceral belly fat — may put individuals at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
When we think of belly fat, it’s often the pinchable kind around the waist known as subcutaneous fat. While that fat might keep us from feeling swimsuit-ready, it actually serves a purpose, protecting the body from bumps and falls and providing a conduit for blood vessels to reach the skin. But it’s visceral fat, which goes unseen, that’s a real cause for alarm.
“Inflammatory secretions of visceral fat—as opposed to potentially protective effects of subcutaneous fat—may lead to inflammation in the brain, one of the main mechanisms contributing to Alzheimer’s disease,” explained study author Mahsa Dolatshahi, M.D., M.P.H., post-doctoral research fellow with Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology (MIR) at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in a press release.
Visceral belly fat accumulates around the abdominal organs deeper within the body. According to WebMD, it’s difficult to see this kind of belly fat. Those with visceral are at greater risk of stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol and, this new study suggests, Alzheimer’s.
“This study highlights a key mechanism by which hidden fat can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” said study co-author Dr. Cyrus Raji, associate professor of radiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “It shows that such brain changes occur as early as age 50, on average—up to 15 years before the earliest memory loss symptoms of Alzheimer’s occur.”
The study revealed the ability to link the presence of visceral body fat with Alzheimer’s decades before symptoms begin, noted CNN. In the study, men and women in their 40s-50s with higher amounts of hidden belly fat were found to have higher traces of abnormal proteins called amyloids in a part of the brain that we know is one of the earliest places where Alzheimer’s occurs, explained Raji.
While visceral fat may go unseen, it responds very well to diet and exercise as it is quickly metabolized.
According to Healthline, tips for getting rid of visceral fat include:
- Eat less overall and avoid fast foods, processed foods and sugary foods
- Eat more protein, vegetables and fiber
- Limit alcohol intake
- Get at least six hours of sleep per night
- Do an aerobic exercise like walking, running, biking or swimming for at least 30 minutes daily
“We’re really pushing the envelope of how early we can detect some of the kind of subtlest manifestations of abnormalities that can be related to Alzheimer’s pathology,” Raji explained. “By identifying this pathological link to visceral fat, there are ways we can potentially intervene in this population.”