Abdominal fat’s impact on brain health in high Alzheimer’s risk individuals

Middle-aged individuals with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease may find the amount of fat in their abdominal organs significantly related to their brain volumes and cognitive function, a recent study by Rutgers Health reveals. The study, published in the journal Obesity, sheds light on the distinct impact of abdominal fat on brain health, particularly among middle-aged men at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Michal Schnaider Beeri, director of the Herbert and Jacqueline Krieger Klein Alzheimer’s Research Center at Rutgers Brain Health Institute, “In middle-aged males at high Alzheimer’s disease risk—but not females—higher pancreatic fat was associated with lower cognition and brain volumes, suggesting a potential sex-specific link between distinct abdominal fat with brain health.”

The research, led by Sapir Golan Shekhtman, a Ph.D. student at the Joseph Sagol Neuroscience Center at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel, focused on 204 healthy middle-aged Alzheimer’s-dementia offspring. By utilising MRI scans, the study examined fat depots in the pancreas, liver, and abdomen to explore their impact on brain health and cognition.

Beeri, the Krieger Klein Endowed Chair in Neurodegeneration Research at BHI, emphasized that obesity is a risk factor for lower cognitive functioning and higher dementia risk, with different associations between sexes. The findings underscore the importance of investigating the interrelationships of fat depots, brain aging, and cognition in the context of sex differences.

Moreover, the study challenges the conventional use of body mass index (BMI) as the primary measure for assessing obesity-related cognitive risks. “Our findings indicate stronger correlations compared to the relationships between BMI and cognition, suggesting that abdominal fat depots, rather than BMI, is a risk factor for lower cognitive functioning and higher dementia risk,” said Shekhtman.