Harvard Health Letter

Weighing on our minds

The abdominal fat we put on in middle age may wind up causing dementia when we're older.

The woes that can arise from being overweight are pretty familiar by now: high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes. Less well known, perhaps, are the cancer risks. Heavier people have higher rates of colon, kidney, pancreatic, and postmenopausal breast cancer.

Now there's another consequence to be worried about. Over the past several years, researchers have slowly accumulated evidence linking excess weight to dementia. The dossier includes results showing a correlation between heaviness in middle age and dementia that develops decades later. It may not be overall weight that matters most, but where it resides. A study published in 2008 indicated that it's fat tissue in the abdominal cavity — the stuff that expands our waistlines — that's most strongly associated with dementia. That finding is consistent with others that have changed the image of abdominal fat from mere girth to active metabolic villain, spewing out chemicals that wreak havoc on the cardiovascular system, a variety of organs, and now, very possibly, the brain.

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