A Study Links Hidden Belly Fat in Midlife to Alzheimer’s

A Study Links Hidden Belly Fat in Midlife to Alzheimer’s

Researchers from the Radiological Society of North America have connected a specific kind of body fat to the development of Alzheimer’s. There is a correlation between increased amounts of proteins that disrupt brain function and visceral fat in the belly. According to researchers, methods for evaluating visceral fat may help identify Alzheimer’s early on.

There may be an increased risk of Alzheimer’s in middle-aged persons who have a specific kind of fat around their internal organs in their bellies.

Researchers examined visceral fat, a specific fat type that accounts for a tiny percentage of a person’s body mass but is critically situated in the abdominal cavity, close to numerous vital organs. Due to its external imperceptibility, visceral fat is also called hidden fat.

Such fat deposits may cause alterations in the brain related to Alzheimer’s as early as age 50 and up to 15 years before the neurological disease’s symptoms manifest, according to research presented at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting [1].

The results are yet to be peer-reviewed.

The Research Details: Hidden Fat and Brain

In the study, the research team attempted to identify connections between amyloid and tau proteins (which disrupt neural communication) and high body mass index (BMI) scores, obesity, insulin resistance, and fatty abdominal tissue in middle-aged people who showed no signs of cognitive problems [2].

Researchers examined data from 54 people, ages 40 to 60, in order to carry out the study. With an average body mass index (BMI) of 32, all of the subjects were clinically obese but in good cognitive health. The team measured the quantity of visceral and subcutaneous fat (the more prevalent form of fat located beneath the skin) in the abdominal cavity by taking pictures with MRI scans.

The researchers also obtained MRI brain images to investigate any connections between brain volume and visceral fat. The thickness of the cortex, which regulates critical processes including language, thinking, and memory, is of particular significance.

As Alzheimer’s advances, it is known to damage neurons and their connections in the brain’s cortex, leading to the loss of volume or “shrinking.”

The scientists also employed a variety of other pertinent tests that might reveal alterations in the brain or biomarkers for inflammation and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, such as insulin resistance tests for glucose tolerance and PET scans that target tau tangles and amyloid plaques, the hallmarks of the disease.

According to a previous study by Dr. Mahsa Dolatshahi, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology (MIR) at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and the team, a higher visceral to subcutaneous fat ratio in the belly was associated with a higher presence of amyloids in the precuneus cortex, a brain region known to be affected early by amyloid pathology in Alzheimer’s [3].

The Connection of the Fat and Brain Inflammation

PET scans revealed higher concentrations of tau and amyloid proteins in the brains of participants with larger ratios of visceral fat to subcutaneous fat. A higher visceral fat proportion has also been linked to increased inflammation, which is another Alzheimer’s risk factor.

Dr. Dolatshahi stated that inflammatory secretions of visceral fat may cause inflammation in the brain, which is one of the primary causes of Alzheimer’s.

According to Dr. Cyrus A. Raji, MD, PhD, an Associate Professor of Radiology and Neurology and Director of Neuromagnetic Resonance Imaging at the Washington University School of Medicine, although other studies have associated BMI with brain atrophy or even a higher dementia risk, no previous research has linked a particular kind of fat to the actual abnormal Alzheimer’s protein in cognitively normal people up to 25 years before they show the first symptoms of the disease.

How this study may aid in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

According to researchers, the results may help identify Alzheimer’s disease early in a population that is at risk. The research not only contributes to our understanding of one of the biochemical processes associated with Alzheimer’s, but it also supports the crucial idea that some of these risk factors are modifiable and discoverable early in life.

Dr. Raji stated that by going beyond BMI to better characterize the structural distribution of body fat on MRI, we now have a significantly better knowledge of why this factor may raise Alzheimer’s risk.

He further stated that these first results have them thrilled, and they anticipate further research and cooperation in this field with an emphasis on brain health. The image of how different bodily parts relate to brain health is changing, and researchers are eager to investigate any potential processes that may exist between these entities.


  1. Radiological Society of North America. RSNA. https://www.rsna.org/annual-meeting. Accessed: 5th January, 2024.
  2. Hidden Belly Fat in Midlife Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. RSNA Radiological Society of North America. RSNA Press Release. https://press.rsna.org/timssnet/media/pressreleases/14_pr_target.cfm?id=2467. Released: 20th November, 2023. Accessed: 5th January, 2024.
  3. Dolatshahi, M., Commean, P.K., Rahmani, F., Liu, J., Lloyd, L., Nguyen, C., Hantler, N., Ly, M., Yu, G., Ippolito, J.E. and Sirlin, C., 2023. Alzheimer Disease Pathology and Neurodegeneration in Midlife Obesity: A Pilot Study. Aging and Disease.
  4. Hidden Belly Fat in Midlife Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/hidden-belly-fat-in-midlife-linked-to-alzheimers-disease. Published Online: 20th November, 2023. Accessed: 5th Janray, 2024.
  5. This Type of Hidden Belly Fat Linked to Higher Alzheimer’s Disease Risk. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/this-type-of-hidden-belly-fat-linked-to-higher-alzheimers-disease-risk. Published Online: 20th November, 2023. Accessed: 5th Janray, 2024.
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