Link between visceral fat and early Alzheimer’s signs revealed

Carrying excess body weight, especially around the belly, has long been linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. But now, researchers have found that it may be a specific type of belly fat that is causing this increased risk.

The type of belly fat in question is known as visceral fat, and is found deep within the abdominal cavity around the organs.

It’s also sometimes called ‘toxic’ fat and can cause many health issues including heart disease, high blood pressure and certain cancers.

What is visceral fat?

Visceral fat, like most fat buildup, is caused by consuming more calories than you burn through activity. Or put more bluntly, it’s caused by eating too many fatty foods and not exercising enough.

People who are visibly fat (have a lot of subcutaneous fat) will also have visceral fat, but it’s also possible for people who are visibly skinny to be carrying a large amount of visceral fat on the inside.

Because visceral fat is buried deep within the body, it’s possible to have a large amount of it around the organs without appearing to be overweight. This phenomenon is known as being ‘skinny fat’.

Skinny fat refers to people whose body mass index (BMI) is in the normal range for their height, appear lean, but who carry a very high percentage of body fat versus muscle.

The culprit in these instances is usually visceral fat. So, your friend who seems to be able to eat any junk food they like but still stay skinny is potentially living with a false sense of security.

Now, even the brain may be under threat from visceral fat. Research presented to the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) has linked visceral fat to a significantly increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease starting many years before symptoms appear.

“This hidden abdominal fat is related to changes in the brain up to 15 years before the earliest memory loss symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease occur,” the RSNA says in a statement.

In the study, researchers analysed data from 54 people aged between 40 and 60 with no signs of any cognitive deficiencies or decline. All participants in the study had an average BMI of 32, or the middle of the ‘obese’ category.

All participants had their volume of visceral fat measured using an abdominal MRI and underwent glucose and insulin measurements.

Another MRI then measured the cortical thickness of brain regions most commonly affected by Alzheimer’s and looked for an accumulation of protein fragments between neurons that are typical of the lead-up to the disease.

The results showed that a higher visceral to subcutaneous fat (visible belly fat) ratio was associated with “higher amyloid PET tracer uptake in the precuneus cortex”, which is the region known to be affected early by Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers found the relationship was stronger in men than in women. They also found that higher visceral fat measurements were related to an increased burden of inflammation in the brain.

Associate Professor Cyrus A. Raji, lead author of the study, says the results have important key implications when it comes to earlier detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s.

“This study highlights a key mechanism by which hidden fat can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” he says.

“It shows that such brain changes occur as early as age 50, on average – up to 15 years before the earliest memory loss symptoms of Alzheimer’s occur.”

So, if you consume a lot of fatty foods and don’t exercise, you may be setting yourself up for trouble down the line, even if you appear to be skinny now.

Is there a history of Alzheimer’s in your family? How much exercise do you do each week? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Sugary diet linked to fatty liver disease in non-drinkers

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.


  1. Well the first mistake you made is referring the BMI which is a load of bullshit and true medical people are starting to go away from it because there is a lot of things that it doesn’t take into account, as doctors are finding now people cannot be lumped into the same category as we are all different in body structure. The best thing all you writers best do is start checking all facts and figures before you go putting pen to paper as it were.

  2. As I understand it, visceral fat is also regarded as “brown” fat. It is a tenacious form of energy storage. As I recall German research from few years ago, they suggested that it plays an important part in temperature regulation and only starts to burn off if the person is exposed to prolonged temperatures below 15 degrees. Tricky in many parts of Australia all year round.
    This fat isn’t necessarily derived purely from fat in the diet but more an intake greater than the body needs. From this, the old idea of a bit of brisk exercise after meals is too late, the brain has already arranged where to store that nutrient. Maybe the better bet is to engage in some exercise prior to eating as then the brain prioritizes getting the nutrients back to the muscles around the body before it heads it to the deep store.
    A lot of this is pure conjecture as it remains unethical to cut living people apart to explore this while they are still alive.

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