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Excess fat around pancreas linked to higher risk for Alzheimer's

UPI
Researchers found that excess fat buildup in and around the pancreas was related to worsening brain volumes and cognitive function. Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News

Excess fat around your pancreas could bode ill for the health of your aging brain, new research shows.

But maybe only if you're male: The relationship wasn't observed among women, noted the team from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

"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," said lead author Michal Schnaider Beeri. She directs the Herbert and Jacqueline Krieger Klein Alzheimer's Research Center at Rutgers Brain Health Institute.

The new study involved 204 healthy middle-aged people who were the offspring of a mother and/or father with a history of Alzheimer's disease. That put them at heightened risk for the disease themselves.

Beeri's team conducted MRI scans looking at fat deposits around each participant's pancreas, liver and abdomen.

They found that excess fat buildup in and around the pancreas was related to worsening brain volumes and cognitive function. This was specific to men but not women.

It's well known that obesity is a risk factor for lower cognitive functioning and higher dementia risk, the team said, but the role of gender has been less clear. The new study suggests men are more vulnerable to the unhealthy effects of organ fat on brain function than women are.

The findings could also have implications for how fat is measured in regards to brain health, Beeri's team added.

Body mass index (BMI) "poorly represents body fat distribution and does not necessarily account for sex differences" when it comes to dementia risk, the team said in a Rutgers news release. More precise measurements of visceral (organ) fat may be more helpful, they believe.

The findings were published Tuesday in Obesity.

More information

There's more on visceral fat at the Cleveland Clinic.

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