Belly Fat in Older Women May Be Linked to Risk of Dementia
Are you a middle-aged woman with a muffin top? Join the club! Unfortunately, that extra weight around the middle may not be helping you health-wise.
CNN is reporting on a new study published in the Archives of Neurology that found an increased presence of adiponectin, a hormone produced by fat cells that aids in regulating the body’s response to insulin and metabolism, in older women with dementia. This finding surprised researchers. “We expected adiponectin to protect against dementia, and it turned out to be just the opposite, Dr. Ernst Schaefer, the director of Tufts University’s Lipid Metabolism Laboratory, told CNN.
The researchers followed 541 women and 300 men who had participated in the Framingham Heart Study, which started in 1948 and was designed to identify the factors that led to cardiovascular disease. After following this group for 13 years to see if they exhibited signs of dementia, the researchers found that 159 women developed dementia; of those, 125 had Alzheimer’s disease.
In looking at adiponectin (as well as homocysteine and glucose levels), the researchers found that women who had higher levels of adiponectin had a 60% increased likelihood of developing dementia.
Interestingly, the Mayo Clinic notes that women may gain belly fat even if they don’t gain weight. “This is likely due to a decreasing level of estrogen, which appears to influence where fat is distributed in the body,” the clinic’s website states. “The tendency to gain or carry weight around the waist — have an ‘apple’ rather than a ‘pear’ shape — can have a genetic component as well.”
The Mayo Clinic also warns that belly fat also increases the risk of other disease, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Belly fat includes the subcutaneous fat (the layer of padding just under the skin) and visceral fat, which surrounds the internal organs and is located deeper inside the abdomen. “Although subcutaneous fat poses cosmetic concerns, visceral fat is associated with far more dangerous health consequences,” the Mayo Clinic stated. “That's because an excessive amount of visceral fat produces hormones and other substances that can raise blood pressure, negatively alter good and bad cholesterol levels and impair the body's ability to use insulin (insulin resistance). An excessive amount of any fat, including visceral fat, also boosts estrogen levels.” This type of fat also can lead to an early death, even if you are at a normal weight.
Getting rid of belly fat can be difficult because crunches and other targeted abdominal exercises don’t work. However, you can shed this fat if you embrace diet and exercise strategies that help you shed pounds and lower your total body fat. Here's how you can accomplish this:
- Healthy eating. Jodi Sawyer, RN, wrote on a blog for the Dr. Oz website that you make a commitment to a lifestyle of healthy eating that includes more fiber-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, lean proteins (chicken, fish and lentils), complex carbohydrates, starchy vegetables (yams), and food rich in omega-3s (salmon, walnuts, and flax seed). Also, avoid processed foods.
- Watch portion sizes. I’ve found that eating meals on smaller plates tricks your brain into thinking you’re eating more. Also, the Mayo Clinic recommends sharing meals when you’re dining out or half the meal and ask for a doggie bag.
- Get active! You need to exercise weekly doing moderate to vigorous aerobics and strength training. The recommendations include 150 minutes a weekly of moderate aerobic exercise (brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (jogging), as well as strength training twice a week. To lose weight, you may have to exercise more. Sawyer recommends doing moderate to intense cardio workouts for 30 minutes 3-5 times per week.
- Water, sleep and relaxation! “It has been statistically proven that a large percentage of obese people are sleep deprived. In addition, as we age, our cortisol levels increase,” Sawyer wrote. “Cortisol is our natural stress hormone, and the higher it is, the higher our glucose level. Furthermore, a higher glucose count can lead to extra fat storage in the abdomen. One of the best ways to counter stress is to exercise. By exercising, you are actually killing two birds with one stone, because not only are you burning fat and calories, but you are reducing stress.
- Commit to slow weight loss! The Mayo Clinic also recommends aiming to lose up to two points a week and go for a steady weight loss in order to lose the excess fat and to keep it off.
The news about this study should give those who made a New Year’s resolution of losing weight or eating better new incentive to stick to their efforts. Go slow, stay focused, and you can do it (and possibly avoid dementia, in the process).