High Belly Fat Leads to Dementia

First Posted: Oct 17, 2013 11:00 AM EDT

A research reveals that people with greater abdominal fat are more prone to dementia.

Neurological scientists at the Rush University Medical Center along with the National Institutes of Health carried out the research.

Dementia is a syndrome, which affects people's memory, ability to carry out daily activities as well as behavior and thinking. Abnormal fat metabolism is a known threat to memory. Researchers found that middle-aged people with a lot of belly fat are 3.6 times more inclined to suffer from memory loss and dementia later in their lives.

"We need to better understand how fat is connected to memory and learning so that we can develop effective approach to protect memory and learning," Kalipada Pahan, PhD, the Floyd A. Davis professor of neurology at Rush University Medical Center, stated in a news release.

The scientists found out that a protein called PPARalpha (Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha) controlling fat metabolism in our liver also manages learning and memory. The protein resides in the hippocampus, the center of the brain.

 "We are surprised to find high level of PPARalpha in the hippocampus of animal models. While PPARalpha deficient mice are poor in learning and memory, injection of PPARα to the hippocampus of PPARalpha deficient mice improves learning and memory," said Pahan.

The PPARalpha protein is a major regulator of fat metabolism in the liver. People with high abdominal fat have lesser levels of PPARalpha in their liver, which leads to abnormal fat metabolism. This ultimately causes depletion of the protein from the entire body and brain as well, which leads to dementia later on. Hence, high belly fat leads to dementia, Pahan explained.   

The researchers used a method called bone marrow chimera technique and experimented on mice having normal levels of the PPARalpha protein in their liver and reduced the levels of the protein in the brain.

It was found that mice with lesser levels of the protein had poor memory and learning ability. Whereas, mice having normal protein level in their brain had normal memory.

"Further research must be conducted to see how we could potentially maintain normal PPARalpha in the brain in order to be resistant to memory loss", said Pahan.

About 35.6 million people are diagnosed with dementia globally and 7.7 million new cases of this syndrome are reported every year, according to WHO.

This research was funded by the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institutes of Health and was recently published in the Cell Reports.

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