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Study: Fat hormone increases risk of dementia in women
January 2nd, 2012
04:00 PM ET

Study: Fat hormone increases risk of dementia in women

Some risk factors for dementia like getting old and having a family history cannot be prevented, but a new study shows that hormones produced in excess weight around the middle may be another risk factor, particularly for women. 

A report in Monday’s Archives of Neurology has found that an increased presence of the hormone adiponectin can increase the risk for loss of brain function and Alzheimer's disease.

According to the World Alzheimer’s Report, currently, 36 million people are affected by dementia worldwide, and that number is expected to double in the next 20 years. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, impacting 80% of the elderly. The Alzheimer’s Association says two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women, and today, of the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, 96% are over the age of 65.

Adiponectin is a hormone produced by fat cells that helps regulate the body’s response to insulin and metabolism. Higher levels of adiponectin have been shown to help lower the risk for Type 2 Diabetes.  But, the authors found that older women who had developed dementia also had higher levels of the hormone.

Dr. Ernst Schaefer, director of the Tufts University Lipid Metabolism Laboratory, one of the study’s authors was surprised by the findings. “ We expected adiponectin to protect against dementia, and it turned out to be just the opposite.”

The authors of the study tracked 841 men and women who were part of the original generation of patients enrolled in the famed Framingham Heart Study.  That study began tracking over 5,000 patients in 1948, to get a better sense of what factors led to cardiovascular disease.  While the Framingham Heart Study initially had similar numbers of men and women enrolled, by the time the patients were tracked for the dementia study, beginning in the late 1980s, most of the surviving patients left were women.

Of the 541 women that were tracked for dementia over the following 13 years, 159 developed some form of dementia, including 125 cases of Alzheimer’s disease.  The study authors found that increased levels of adiponectin increased the likelihood of dementia development by 60%, and of Alzheimer’s by 90%.

In addition to adiponectin, the study also tracked homocysteine and glucose levels.

Schaefer suggested that the dementia study might indicate a connection between nutrition and dementia.  Adiponectin levels were found to be inversely correlated to body mass index, or BMI.  Older women with higher BMIs were found to have lower levels of adiponectin, and  lower rates of dementia. 

While Schaefer mentioned that these factors probably also hold true for men, he said that unfortunately, the numbers weren’t there to support it because of the low number of men still participating in the study.

He said for women over 60, “it may be that being very thin may not be a good thing.” But carrying to much weight can lead to other diseases like diabetes and heart disease. As people age, Schaefer says nutrition should be of big concern. “We need to make sure that people are involved in eating three square meals and getting the nutrients they need. It may be vital to their mental health.

The study was supported in part by the National Institute of Health, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Framingham Heat Study.


soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. dheape

    You should make sure that you are eating three meals a day and getting the nutrients and vitamins you need, because this is how you can fight disease and also sickness. http://thedietsolutionprogramreviewsite.weebly.com/

    January 2, 2012 at 18:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Con Austin

    this does not surprise me. I am a social worker working with Alzheimer patients and those with other dementias. Although this is purely anecdotal, 95% of my clients would be considered lean to underweight. I hope this study leads to understanding that the human brain thrives on, absolutelely needs, fat : in the form of non trans fat: saturated fat and monounsaturated fat. Feed our people olive oil, salmon, coconut oil, pastured butter, and please forget the fat phobia. I am not suggesting that one has to be overweight to avoid Alzheimers... But I do believe our brains have to be nourished with good fat,

    January 2, 2012 at 19:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • srichey

      Absolutely agree. People tend to lump all forms of fat together as "bad", not understanding that saturated fat and medium chain fatty acids keep your body and brain functioning properly.

      January 2, 2012 at 19:45 | Report abuse |
    • robert

      fat is essential, but the natural fat found in foods such as nuts and seeds, bottles of olive or coconut oil do not grow on trees

      January 2, 2012 at 19:55 | Report abuse |
    • musicdorian

      Wait a second. You're working with old people, primarily. They are thin now, but how fat were they leading up to old age? This you do not address. Your antecdotal research has completely left out the tragectory of weight history that might have led to alzheimers. It would not surprise me if these currently thin alzhiemers patients were porkers leading up to their illness.

      January 2, 2012 at 20:26 | Report abuse |
    • B

      I was thinking this when I read the article! The people I have known who have had Alzheimers were always thin their entire lives! I am still a bit confused by the article...

      January 2, 2012 at 20:46 | Report abuse |
    • Anna

      How to Lose weight and Protect the brain at the same time: By Researchers in Europe

      Dementia, Diabetes, Obesity and Alzheimer’s are all related. You may not have diabetes but blood sugar is the cause of Dementia and Alzheimer’s. This was proven BY scientists in Denmark. When researchers feed a Specialized diabetes diet to people without (or with) diabetes they all improved memory and lost fat fast. Type 2 diabetes was reversed

      Just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

      January 3, 2012 at 12:24 | Report abuse |
    • Thiwell

      Thanks for sharing that information. My BF says both his grandmothers who had it, were very thin ( all their lives), and my Mom had it, and although she was not ever thin, I know for fact she did not eat healthy fatty foods. I myself have a policy: if nature made it, I'll eat it; even sweets, as long as it's made with unrefined sugar (nature) and organic butter(nature).

      January 3, 2012 at 20:17 | Report abuse |
    • Abby

      Remember that not all thin people avoid fat. I use butter, olive oil, and coconut oil to cook with. I drink whole milk and eat full-fat yogurt (which is surprisingly hard to find in stores!). I eat just as much food as my husband does, sometimes more. But according to my BMI, I'm underweight.

      January 4, 2012 at 12:05 | Report abuse |
  3. 3rd year med student

    Con Austin. You are the man. Eat fat. Lots of it. Saturated fat is good for you. Avoid junk carbs in the form of sugar, rice, pasta, bread, fries, and chips.

    January 2, 2012 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)

      That's terrible advice. Saturated fat is absolutely not good for you.

      January 2, 2012 at 20:01 | Report abuse |
    • Vic

      Saturated fats (from coconut oil and grass fed meats) are absolutely essential for human health.

      January 2, 2012 at 20:39 | Report abuse |
    • SuZieCoyote

      Nate, find and read the research. The evidence supporting the ideal that saturated fat or consumed cholesterol are bad for you are scant to non-existent. What isn't good for us are vegetable oils, even the ones that aren't labeled as transfats around found to contain transfats in numbers significant enough to disrupt human metabolism. Humans have always eating saturated fats with good effect. The current obseity problem is directly related to vegetable fats and refined carbs (actual overuse of ALL carbs, refined or not.)

      January 3, 2012 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
    • Thiwell

      I am SO glad to hear this from a Med Student! I'm glad to know that the new generation of doctors get it. So may older MD's did not connect diet and health. Best wishes to you in your career.

      January 3, 2012 at 20:32 | Report abuse |
    • Abby

      Nate,
      There have been ZERO studies proving naturally occurring saturated fat is bad. In fact, recent studies are showing it as an essential good fat.

      January 4, 2012 at 12:06 | Report abuse |
  4. db

    Can someone please translate this article for me? Is it good or bad to have a fat middle?

    January 2, 2012 at 19:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Liberty Queen

      @db The article is confusing in that it does not directly state what it is trying to say. Here's what I believe it is saying. If you are carrying extra weight, that is, if you have a high BMI (Body Mass Index) with a lower level of the hormone Adiponectin, you have an incereased risk of diabetes and heart disease and a decreased risk of dementia. However if you are normal or under weight and have a higher level of the hormone Adiponectin, you have a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease and an increased risk of dementia. Why the people who write these articles can't speak in lay terms without using double negatives is frustrating. As with anything, the middle way is usually the healthiest.

      January 2, 2012 at 19:50 | Report abuse |
    • steve

      db; the correlation found is that the more UNDER weight women (not men) tend to be, the higher the rate of dementia. tis dosent though mean being a fat slob helps. there werent enough men left in the study to give statistically meanful answers. when you consider the min population for normally distributed functions tends to be only 30, that means vast majority of the men have died already (study did start 63 yrs ago, so thats not surprising).
      3rd yr med student; you will never be my Dr. you havent even grasped the difference between sat and UN sat fat yet.
      and to echo some others yes, eat SOME good natural fats found primarily in natural unprocessed foods but dont go whole hog on ANYTHING as some (Lib Queen etc) correctly state. its primarily the abundance but also fact most Americans eat way too much processed crap chock full of simple carbs, bad fat and little or no protein.
      rule of thumb; it you eat it in the same form it grows (cooked or no), you're pretty much OK. if it comes in a wrapper and is formed, shaped, extruded, pressed or poured into a form in any way, its probably garbage you should be eating..

      January 2, 2012 at 20:20 | Report abuse |
    • Accipiter

      LibertyQueen – Thank you for explaining it. I read the article three times over and still couldn't make heads or tails of it. My mother recently died of dementia and always had been very thin/ate very little, so this article is especially interesting to me.

      January 2, 2012 at 20:56 | Report abuse |
    • Lua

      It's basically saying: You want to be healthy and thin to avoid heart issues but not so thin when you're older because you could end up with dementia due to lower levels of this hormone. Just ignore all of it and eat healthy foods with ingredients you can pronounce and exercise your brain by reading and maintaining active. My friend's grandmother was thin as a rail, she ate well and played golf until she turned 95 and she died in her sleep. That's what we all hope for, I think.
      If you have a history of dementia in your family I would consult a doctor and discuss prevention techniques. Otherwise I would not advise trying to gain weight around your belly (terrible advice!) to avoid dementia because you'll probably end up dying of heart disease :P
      Healthy diets high in fruit, veggies, fish and all of the natural oils other people have been talking about are actually showing links to cancer prevention as well.

      January 4, 2012 at 12:44 | Report abuse |
  5. srichey

    Stay away from sugar, processed food, white flour and wheat. Do that and your middle will "magically" disappear within months.

    January 2, 2012 at 19:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lindalou

      Sound to me like an Atkins diet recommendation. High protein, low carb.

      January 2, 2012 at 20:27 | Report abuse |
    • Alaa

      Lortab Abuse .com welcomes you to post cmonemts on the subjects of Lortab and Lortab Abuse, or any kind of drug related topics of issues. We look forward to hearing your opinions and cmonemts

      April 8, 2012 at 12:51 | Report abuse |
  6. Avser Bastian

    JeramieH
    Paranoid schizophrenics that really do have a computer chip in their head. Gives them even more reason to think they're being controlled by the government, aliens, whatever...

    January 2, 2012 at 19:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Logic

    So, according to the article, the hormone Adiponectin is produced by fat cells. People with elevated Adiponectin (which is produced in fat cells) have higher likelihood of developing dementia. But women over 60 should not be too thin or the will get dementia. ??? I think there is a typo somewhere in this article or somebody has jumped to the wrong conclusion. Come on folks, let's at least try to follow some semblance of logic!

    January 2, 2012 at 19:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • musicdorian

      It appeared to me, that the ariticle said the being too thin is not good. It did not say that thiness led to demensia. On the otherhand it did say that being to fat seems to lead to dementia.

      January 2, 2012 at 20:20 | Report abuse |
    • Mari

      I agree–there is no logic in this article-I am a high risk for getting dementia–so I will stick to eating lots of Spinach–and fruits/vegetables–and salads-, I limit my meat–but I do use fats (coconut oil once in a while, and peanut/soybean oil)–and i love sweets–but I keep my tricyclerides low–by exercising and taking lots of green tea (it works for me)

      January 2, 2012 at 20:22 | Report abuse |
  8. BobH

    It's really too bad CNN no longer has a science desk to fact check their stories. The article says that 80% of elderly people have Alzheimer's:

    "Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, impacting 80% of the elderly."

    It should say "80% of elderly people with dementia have Alzheimer's disease." Very different.

    January 2, 2012 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)

      CNN? This whole country doesn't have a science desk. Science in this country has been subordinated to conservative nonsense, and Christian quackery.

      January 2, 2012 at 20:03 | Report abuse |
    • Kenith

      But I love the British history oosooo much after that of Italy's. I so love Elizabeth I although I loathe her father. Hehehe.Nonetheless, yeah, I'd say they're aloof with much of Europe but it's what makes them stand out, economic-wise, especially. Look at London now, it's fighting neck-to-neck with NYC as the economic capital of the world.Also, they started the Industrial Revolution, they took a rather big part in the Renaissance period and the two Great Wars and much, much other events that made history what it is that we read now.Hindi naman masyado obvious na nasa British side ako di ba? For Poland, a priest was raising the Rainbow Flag. I love this. Hahahaha

      March 3, 2012 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
  9. boboe223

    nom nom nom. so hungry.

    January 2, 2012 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Good 'Ol U.S.of A.

    More proof that fat people are stupid.

    January 2, 2012 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike in Indiana

      Seeing as the actual relationship is the exact opposite of what you are suggesting – you might want to reconsider your rather clueless slam.

      January 2, 2012 at 20:53 | Report abuse |
  11. emt

    Mmmm fat ...

    January 2, 2012 at 20:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. shakemeup

    Did they put the numbers in a blender before or after they wrote this article. As near as i can tell it is contrary to itself.

    January 2, 2012 at 20:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. soliterry

    I went back to the original material and it says a fat hormone is linked to dementia, but it is linked INVERSELY. Your "reporter' seems to have seen the word linked and make the assumption that "Linked" meant aligned positively. Now it is all over the web that fat causes Alzheimer's which is the opposite of what they found.

    January 2, 2012 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chrissy

      thnak you. this response is the best, clearest yet to describe what should have appeared in this lengthy, misreported article.

      January 3, 2012 at 12:00 | Report abuse |
  14. Den

    The lead sentence of this article is contradicted by material further down. In the lead, we're told that "hormones produced in excess weight around the middle may be another risk factor, particularly for women," but later we're told that "Adiponectin levels were found to be inversely correlated to body mass index, or BMI. Older women with higher BMIs were found to have lower levels of adiponectin, and lower rates of dementia." Since the BMI is higher for over-weight or obese people, and they have (apparently) lower levels of dementia, what's the truth? It seems to me that it's this – skinny old people are likelier to suffer from dementia, but less likely to have diabetes. So, what kind of experience do we want to have as we toddle off to the grave – body parts failing because of poor circulation, or drive-by reality because of dementia? That's some choice...

    January 2, 2012 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Evan

    What d'ya know... good nutrition is important to mental health. The processed and fast food industries will fight this tooth and nail. For their execs to be fat in their bank accounts (where it matters most to them) they require consumer cooperation in stuffing faces, losing their mental faculties, and create a spiral will continue expanding bloated consumer stomachs and corporate coffers.

    Knowledge about health is the processed and fast food industries' worst enemy, and CNN is now their enemy no. 1 for publishing this!

    January 2, 2012 at 21:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. warren

    Now they say that a hormone produced by abdominal fat seems to protect against Alzheimer's. I suspect that the inverse is true. As people lose their mental faculties, they eat less & become thinner.

    January 2, 2012 at 22:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Curious George

    I have a real issue with the recent medical claims of cause and effect between a disease and an existing condition. Just because someone with Dementia has a high level of of a specific harmone does not mean the harmone caused Dementia. That is like saying an increase in white blood cells causes cancer when in fact it is the cancer that causes the increase in white blood cells.
    How do we know the Dementia isn't causing the increase in the harmone? Or that there is no connection at all?

    January 3, 2012 at 02:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Vivek

    Your Information is so Informative.
    seo

    January 3, 2012 at 02:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. RoadRunner, Albuquerque, NM

    Read the article. Had a good poop.

    January 3, 2012 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Dave

    Having more weight may decrease risks for dementria, but it increases risks for strokes.

    January 3, 2012 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. LYDIA HALIOUA

    I suspect that being overweight is not in itself protection against dementia, but carrying some extra weight assumes that the nutritional status of that individual is overall better due to increased calories, protein and, in general, nutrients. Being very thin and old carries the risk of being undernourished in key nutrients which, in turn, increases the likelihood of dementia. It always goes back to nutrition and I always believed that eating a bit more, in the end, is better than not getting enough, as long as the weight is maintained at a "normal and safe" level for that person.

    January 3, 2012 at 10:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. D404

    Dear CNN/Nadia Kounang: Please rewrite and have someone edit this article so the conclusions are clear to us, then post a corrected article. It's obvious this is an important topic, and it's obvious from the comments that readers don't understand what this article is trying to say. Had me until you started talking about BMI, then you lost me.

    January 3, 2012 at 11:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Just Facts Ma'am

      I agree D404! This medical article should be removed from CNN until it is corrected. The headline contradicts the article which, also contradicts itself from one paragraph to another leading the reader to be misinformed. I can't believe CNN was left this article up for so long without correcting it.

      January 7, 2012 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
    • Eduardo

      I helped move my mom from a one oroebdm independent apartment in a residential care facility to a studio apartment. Mom is running out of money and I quickly. No one really anticipated this. The good news is that she has remained independent longer than we thought. (Mom has Parkinsons and a long term care policy that will kick in when she needs assisted living.) The bad news is that she will probably run out of money before she needs the care. I am exhausted and living in a fog. My sister is helping her unpack and settle in this weekend. She flew in from CA leaving her husband and two young girls who start school on Monday. I don't think she will get everything done with mom because mom will have to get rid of at least 50% more stuff to really make the small space work. I dread dealing with the left overs when she leaves. Mom has Parkinsons and needs more and more help. I thought I was in the thick of things 8 years ago when she was diagnosed and she moved from her condo. Now I realize that it is really just being for me. The last years of a move, multiple falls, emergency room visits, managing multiple medications well that is seeming easy now. I am not looking forward to the next stage. I am not looking forward to aging myself.

      April 8, 2012 at 13:45 | Report abuse |
  23. Anna

    Dementia, Diabetes, Obesity and Alzheimer’s are all related. You may not have diabetes but blood sugar is the cause of Dementia and Alzheimer’s. This was proven BY scientists in Denmark. When researchers feed a Specialized diabetes diet to people without (or with) diabetes they all improved memory and lost fat fast. Type 2 diabetes was reversed

    Just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

    January 3, 2012 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Coriolana

    Oh please! Another scare story cooked up by insurance uberlords.

    January 3, 2012 at 12:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. SuZieCoyote

    I don't think the conclusions developed in this article make a whole lot of sense. Low weight might be coincident with dementia, but the link may be more complicated. I would be more interested in the overall nutritional strengths and diet of those suffering demential than those who do not. I can almost guarantee that the diets of those suffering dementia are high-carb, transfat/vegeble-based, with soy likely playing a role as well.

    January 3, 2012 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Youni

    Don't let a poorly written article confuse you. Epidemiology reveals correlations not "cause and effect". The association of a fat hormone with a disease outcome have been misrepresented by the editor when she writes that "increased levels of adiponectin increased the likelihood of dementia development" as if it were a fact. It may be decades before the "cause and effect" of this association are known. Meanwhile – you are better off eating a well balanced diet and avoiding excess carbohydrates.

    January 4, 2012 at 06:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. rh

    That's funny, I know far more people who have been skinny and are skinny who have dementia.

    January 4, 2012 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. BMac

    Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight, and exercise.

    Be Happy

    January 4, 2012 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. VVegas

    My grandmother was ALWAYS a very thin woman and she has dementia much worse than her other friends who are not as thin...Just an observation!

    January 4, 2012 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Lua

    Just ignore all of it and eat healthy foods with ingredients you can pronounce and exercise your brain by reading and maintaining active. My friend's grandmother was thin as a rail, she ate well and played golf until she turned 95 and she died in her sleep. That's what we all hope for, I think.
    If you have a history of dementia in your family I would consult a doctor and discuss prevention techniques. Otherwise I would not advise trying to gain weight around your belly (terrible advice!) to avoid dementia because you'll probably end up dying of heart disease :P
    Healthy diets high in fruit, veggies, fish and all of the natural oils other people have been talking about are actually showing links to cancer prevention as well.

    January 4, 2012 at 12:46 | Report abuse | Reply
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    You need to call the credit card oacpmny and get a pin number and to find out what ATM's you can use. Then you will be able to get a cash advance.

    March 6, 2012 at 00:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Yoorka

      I appreciate your input on this quiet giant of loss to mteanl health. I do not suffer from this but I have known some who did and a few who presently deal with this silent killer. For me, the statement of conditions of Alzheimer\'s has limited direct family impact for me but this disease floats like a haze that can settle on anyone. I quietly consider this for me, if for any other reason, the direct and indirect impact of this disease would have on me and those I care for. Thanks for your effort, Tom Harrison

      April 8, 2012 at 12:19 | Report abuse |
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