Dad bods may lead to Alzheimer’s disease for certain men

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Could a “dad bod” lead to dementia? It’s common to see a bit more fat around the waistline during middle age, but researchers from Rutgers University say this could be a bad sign for a man’s brain. Scientists have found that the influence of abdominal fat on brain health and cognition tends to be more pronounced among middle-aged men at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to women.

Study authors explain that for middle-aged individuals with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, fat levels surrounding the abdominal organs (pancreas, liver, and stomach) appear to have a connection to brain volumes and cognitive function. The study included 204 healthy middle-aged participants with a family history of Alzheimer’s-dementia. Researchers focused on investigating fat deposits in the pancreas, liver, and abdomen, measuring those amounts using MRI scans.

“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,” says Michal Schnaider Beeri, the Krieger Klein Endowed Chair in Neurodegeneration Research at the Rutgers Brain Health Institute, in a media release.

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Obesity is already considered a risk factor for lower cognitive functioning and higher dementia risk, but the specific associations differ between men and women. Researchers say these latest findings highlight the importance of investigating and better understanding the connections between fat depots, brain aging, and cognition framed within the context of sex differences.

Moreover, the team says their project challenges the conventional use of body mass index (BMI) as the primary or gold standard measure of assessing obesity-related cognitive risks. The research team adds BMI poorly represents body fat distribution, nor does it necessarily account for sex differences.

“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,” says Sapir Golan Shekhtman, a Ph.D. student at the Joseph Sagol Neuroscience Center at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel.

The study authors believe these findings open up numerous new potential ways to develop targeted interventions and further explore sex-specific approaches to understanding and mitigating the influence of abdominal fat on brain health.

The study is published in the journal

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