Belly Fat Increases Your Risk Of Dementia

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.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids And Brain Health

Is it How Much You Eat, or How Much You Keep?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Brain HealthWhy do some studies conclude that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a strong mind, a strong heart and will wipe out inflammation – while other studies suggest that they are ineffective? The simple answer is that nobody really knows.

However, in the process of reviewing two recent studies on omega-3 fatty acids and brain health I made an interesting observation that offers a possible explanation for the discrepancies between studies. And if my hypothesis is correct, it suggests that the design of many of the previous studies with omega-3 fatty acids is faulty.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids And Brain Health

The first study (J.K. Virtanen et al, J Am Heart Assoc, 2013, 2:e000305 doi: 10.1161/JAHA.113.000305) looked at the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on brain function in older adults (>65 years old). It concluded that high omega-3 levels were associated with better white matter grade and a 40% reduction in subclinical infarcts (Sorry for the technical jargon – but both of those are good things in terms of brain function for those of us who are getting a bit older).

The second study (C. M. Milte et al, J of Attention Disorders, 2013, doi: 10.1177/1087054713510562) looked at the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on children (ages 6-13) with ADHD. It concluded that high omega-3 levels were associated with improved spelling and attention and reduced oppositional behavior, hyperactivity, cognitive problems and inattention.

What Is The Common Thread In These Studies?

Why, you might ask, am I comparing a study in the elderly, where the concern is retention of cognitive skills, with a study on ADHD in children?

That’s because there is a very important common thread in those two studies. It wasn’t the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet that counted. It was the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood that made the difference.

The first study included a detailed dietary history to estimate the habitual intake of omega-3 fatty acids in the participants.

  • There was no correlation between estimated dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids and any measure of brain function in those older adults.
  • However, there was a strong correlation between blood levels of omega-3s and brain health in that population group.

The second study was actually a placebo controlled intervention study in which the children were given 1 gm/day of either omega-3 fatty acids or omega-6 fatty acids.

  • Once again, there was no correlation between dietary intake of omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids and any outcome related to ADHD.
  • However, there was a strong correlation between blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids or omega-3/omega-6 ratio and improvement in multiple measures of ADHD.

How Could The Effect of Dietary Intake And Blood Levels Of Omega-3s Be So Different?

Fish OilBoth studies were relatively small and suffered from some technical limitations, but the most likely explanations are:

  • Inaccurate recall of the participants as to what they eat on a habitual basis. (study 1)
  • Individual differences in the ability of participants to convert short chain omega-3 fatty acids (found in foods such as canola oil, flaxseed oil and walnuts) to the beneficial long chain fatty acids (found in cold water fish). (study 1)
  • Poor compliance in taking the supplements. (study 2)

Why Are These Studies Important?

The most important insight to come out of both of these studies is that it is essential to actually measure blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and not just rely on dietary intake or supplementation for a valid clinical trial.

That’s a concern because blood measurements of omega-3 fatty acids are expensive and have not been a part of many of the clinical studies that have been performed to date. Even the largest, best designed clinical study is worthless if the dietary recalls aren’t accurate or people don’t take their capsules.

We need to go back and reevaluate many of the clinical studies that have been published.

We need to ask:

  • Are their conclusions valid?
  • Did some studies fail to show that omega-3s were effective simply because they only measured dietary intake and not how much of the omega-3s actually accumulated in the blood?

The Bottom Line

  • High blood levels of omega-3s in the blood correlated with improved brain health in the elderly and reduced ADHD symptoms in children
  • These studies were small, but they are consistent with a number of other studies that have come to similar conclusions.
  • Blood levels of omega-3s are better predictors than dietary intake for evaluating the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Many previous studies that failed to find an effect of omega-3 fatty acids on brain health, heart health or inflammation did not actually measure blood levels of the omega-3 fatty acids. These studies should be reevaluated.

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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