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Alzheimer's May Be Linked to Body Shape

Alzheimer's May Be Linked to Body Shape

Thursday, October 25, 2001 By Emma Hitt, PhD

ATLANTA (Reuters Health) - Alzheimer's disease may be more common among people with a relatively small waist but sizable hips than among people with the opposite proportions, researchers suggest.

The measurement of the waist relative to the hips, called the waist-to-hip ratio, measures the distribution of body fat. People carrying extra weight around their waist (a "high" waist-to-hip ratio) are thought to be at increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes compared with those carrying extra weight around their hips (a "low" waist-to-hip ratio).

In their study, however, Dr. Eric B. Larson and colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle found that the group with the lowest waist-to-hip ratios were about three times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those with a high waist-to-hip ratio.

To conduct the study, Larson's team recruited over 2,500 elderly people who were free of Alzheimer's disease symptoms at the beginning of the study. They also collected data on several of the participants' physical characteristics, including height, weight, blood pressure and age, and they measured the circumference of their head, waist and hips.

During the study period, a total of 89 participants developed Alzheimer's disease. These individuals had similar physical characteristics than those who did not develop the disease, with the one exception of having a lower waist-to-hip ratio.

This result held true even when taking into account other factors that could have influenced the risk of Alzheimer's disease, such as body weight and gender, the researchers note.

They presented the findings Wednesday at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting.

According to Larson, the most obvious explanation for this finding is that persons with low waist-to-hip ratios are more likely to survive to develop Alzheimer's because they are less likely to have heart disease and diabetes.

"However, we are most interested in whether early life development or genetic factors (which also influence the ratio) might influence the risk in and of themselves," Larson told Reuters Health.

Dr. Victoria Moceri, who presented the findings, explained that people with cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's have different body builds, possibly because of a difference in infant and childhood maturation, and this could affect the developing brain, which could in turn contribute to Alzheimer's disease later in life.

"We are intensely studying the relationship between early life factors, during the period when the brain develops, and late life risk of Alzheimer's disease," Larson said.

SOURCE: American Public Health Association's annual meeting.

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