Posts Tagged ‘abdominal fat’

Belly Fat Increases Your Risk Of Dementia

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Issues, Obesity

Does Belly Fat Make You Dumb?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Forgetful Old ManIn last week’s “Healh Tips From the Professor” I told you that abdominal obesity (otherwise known as “belly fat“) increases your risk of dying from both heart disease and cancer.

But you probably knew that already.

This week I’m going to tell you about a recent study that breaks new ground and should really grab your attention.

Belly Fat Increases Your Risk Of Dementia

This week’s study shows that abdominal obesity dramatically increases your risk of developing dementia as you age (RA Whitmer et al, Neurology, 71: 1057-1064, 2008).

This study involved 6,583 members of Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, ages 40 to 45, who had their abdominal obesity measured between 1964 and 1973. The investigators then pulled their medical records between 1994 and 2006 when they were between 73 and 87 years old and asked how many of them had dementia.

The results may shock you.

The participants were divided into five groups based on their abdominal circumference. Those with the largest abdominal circumference were nearly 3 times more likely to have developed dementia than those with the smallest abdominal circumference. And that was after the data were adjusted for age, sex, race, education, diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, stroke and heart disease – all factors that are known to affect the risk of dementia.

Belly Fat Is Worse Than Overall Obesity

Interestingly enough the abdominal circumference was a better predictor of dementia risk than was BMI, the most frequently used measure of obesity.

  • Those subjects who had high abdominal obesity and normal BMI had a 2-fold increased risk of developing dementia
  • Those subjects who were obese but had normal abdominal circumference had only an 80% increased risk of developing dementia.
  • Of course, those people who were both obese and had a large belly were the worst off – they had almost a 4-fold increased risk of developing dementia.

So where you store your fat is more important than the total amount of fat, but you probably knew that already.

You Can Reduce Your Risk Of Dementia

Now let’s get to the question that I’m sure that many of you are dying to ask me: “If I don’t like what I see when I look into the mirror, am I doomed to develop dementia when I get older?”

The answer is no. Most experts feel that the effects of abdominal obesity are reversible.

But the time to act is now!

If you wait until you get older, you might just forget that you ever read this article.

The Bottom Line

  • The bad news is that belly fat increases your risk of developing dementia as you get older by as much as 3-fold.
  • The good news is that dementia is not inevitable. You can reverse the increased risk of dementia by losing the belly fat

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Abdominal Fat Shortens Your Lifespan

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Issues, Obesity

Your Belly Fat Could Be Killing You

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Belly FatYou’ve probably already heard about the dangers of abdominal obesity (otherwise known as “belly fat“). You’ve probably heard that it increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

But did you know that your belly fat could be killing you? And, the weirdest part is that your belly fat could be killing you even if you are at ideal body weight (more about that in a minute).

Abdominal Fat Shortens Your Lifespan

A group of scientists at the National Institutes of Health recently analyzed data collected from 44,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study over a 16-year period and asked if abdominal obesity affected their death rates from heart disease and cancer (Zhang et al, Circulation, 117: 1658-1667, 2008).

The answer was a clear-cut yes!

The study showed that women with a waist circumference of 35 inches were 2X more likely to die from heart disease and cancer than women with a waist circumference of 28 inches – even if they were at ideal body weight.

Abdominal Fat Can Kill You Even If Your Weight Is In The Normal Range

You might be asking “How could those women be at ideal body weight and still have abdominal obesity?”

There is a natural tendency to lose muscle mass as we age. When we add in the inactivity associated with the American lifestyle that loss of muscle mass is accelerated and the muscle is replaced with fat. Thus, it is actually possible in today’s world to have both normal weight and abdominal obesity – and that is not a good thing!

Of course, the women who were both overweight and had abdominal obesity were even more likely to die from heart disease or cancer. So weight control is not just about looking good in your bathing suit – abdominal obesity is a killer!

However, the good news is that you can do something about abdominal obesity. With exercise and a controlled calorie, high protein diet you can replace that fat with muscle (See my previous article “Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?).

The Bottom Line

  • Belly Fat may double the risk of dying from heart disease and cancer in women. The statistics are likely to be similar in men.
  • Because both inactivity and the normal aging process cause us to lose muscle and replace it with fat, many of us have excess belly fat even when we are not overweight.
  • Combining a calorie controlled, high protein diet with exercise can help reverse the process and replace that excess fat with muscle.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

Can Plant-based Diets Be Unhealthy?

Posted September 10, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

plant-based diets vegetablesPlant-based diets have become the “Golden Boys” of the diet world. They are the diets most often recommended by knowledgeable health and nutrition professionals. I’m not talking about all the “Dr. Strangeloves” who pitch weird diets in books and the internet. I am talking legitimate experts who have spent their life studying the impact of nutrition on our health.

Certainly, there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claim that plant-based diets are healthy. Going on a plant-based diet can help you lower blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol and triglycerides. People who consume a plant-based diet for a lifetime weigh less and have decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But, can a plant-based diet be unhealthy? Some people consider a plant-based diet to simply be the absence of meat and other animal foods. Is just replacing animal foods with plant-based foods enough to make a diet healthy?

Maybe not. After all, sugar and white flour are plant-based food ingredients. Fake meats of all kinds abound in our grocery stores. Some are very wholesome, but others are little more than vegetarian junk food. If you replace animal foods with plant-based sweets, desserts, and junk food, is your diet really healthier?

While the answer to that question seems obvious, very few studies have asked that question. Most studies on the benefits of plant-based diets have compared population groups that eat a strictly plant-based diet (Seventh-Day Adventists, vegans, or vegetarians) with the general public. They have not looked at variations in plant food consumption within the general public. Nor have they compared people who consume healthy and unhealthy plant foods.

This study (H Kim et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, 8:e012865, 2019) was designed to fill that void.

 

How Was The Study Done?

plant-based diets studyThis study used data collected from 12,168 middle aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study between 1987 and 2016.

The participant’s usual intake of foods and beverages was assessed by trained interviewers using a food frequency questionnaire at the time of entry into the study and again 6 years later.

Participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they consumed 66 foods and beverages of a defined serving size in the previous year. Visual guides were provided to help participants estimate portion sizes.

The participant’s adherence to a plant-based diet was assessed using four different well-established plant-based diet scores. For the sake of simplicity, I will include 3 of them in this review.

  • The PDI (Plant-Based Diet Index) categorizes foods as either plant foods or animal foods. A high PDI score means that the participant’s diet contains more plant foods than animal foods. A low PDI score means the participant’s diet contains more animal foods than plant foods.
  • The hPDI (healthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “healthy” plant foods. A high hPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) and low in animal foods.
  • The uPDI (unhealthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “unhealthy” plant foods. A high uPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) and low in animal foods.

For statistical analysis the scores from the various plant-based diet indices were divided into 5 equal groups. In each case, the group with the highest score consumed the most plant foods and least animal foods. The group with the lowest score consumed the least plant foods and the most animal foods.

The health outcomes measured in this study were heart disease events, heart disease deaths, and all-cause deaths. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will only include 2 of these outcomes (heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths) in this review. The data on deaths were obtained from state death records and the National Death Index. (Yes, your personal information is available on the web even after you die.)

 

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

plant-based diets reduce heart deathsThe participants in this study were followed for an average of 25 years.

The investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years and compared people with the highest intake of plant foods to people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods. The results were:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

What Else Did The Study Show?

The investigators made a couple of other interesting observations:

  • The association of the overall diet with heart disease and all-cause deaths was stronger than the association of individual food components. This underscores the importance of looking at the effect of the whole diet on health outcomes rather than the “magic” foods you hear about on Dr. Strangelove’s Health Blog.
  • Diets with the highest amount of healthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of carbohydrates, plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Diets with the highest amount of unhealthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of calories and carbohydrates and lower intake of fiber and micronutrients.

The last two observations may help explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets.

 

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

plant-based diets unhealthy cookiesNow, let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can plant-based diets be unhealthy?” Although some previous studies have suggested that unhealthy plant-based diets might increase the risk of heart disease, this study did not show that.

What this study did show was that an unhealthy plant-based diet was no better for you than a diet containing lots of red meat and other animal foods.

If this were the only conclusion from this study, it might be considered a neutral result. However, this result clearly contrasts with the data from this study and many others showing that both plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths compared to animal-based diets.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

There is one other subtle message from this study. This study did not compare vegans with the general public. Everyone in the study was the general public. Nobody in the study was consuming a 100% plant-based diet.

For example:

  • The group with the highest intake of plant foods consumed 9 servings per day of plant foods and 3.6 servings per day of animal foods.
  • The group with the lowest intake of plant foods consumed 5.4 servings per day of plant foods and 5.6 servings per day of animal foods.

In other words, you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study analyzed the effect of consuming plant foods on heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths over a 25-year period.

When the investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

A more subtle message from the study is that you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet. The people in this study were not following some special diet. The only difference was that some of the people in this study ate more plant foods and others more animal foods.

For more details on the study, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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