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Visceral Fat Linked to Poor Cognitive Performance in Asians, NTU Study Finds

A recent study conducted by researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) reveals that Asians with excessive visceral fat, the type of fat surrounding internal organs, tend to have poorer cognitive performance. This affects their abilities to think, learn, and remember. 

The study was led by scientists from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) collaborating with scientists at Imperial College London. The researchers analysed health data of around 8,700 multi-ethnic Singaporeans and permanent residents from the Health for Life in Singapore (HELIOS) study between 2018 and 2021.

Body Fat and Cognition

The study discovered that a higher body mass index (BMI) and BMI-adjusted waist-to-hip ratio correlated with decreased cognitive performance. The findings, published in The Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific medical journal, underscore the impact that obesity prevention can have on maintaining cognitive function.

Medical Perspective

The number of people afflicted by dementia is projected to reach 78 million in 2030 and 139 million by 2050. Consequently, understanding and addressing the determinants of cognitive function has become a major public health priority. Additionally, the study’s findings suggest that preventing and controlling obesity in Asian populations could be crucial in maintaining cognitive function and safeguarding against the future risk of dementia.

Previous studies have indicated that metabolic disorders might be risk factors for cognitive decline, but scientists have been less certain about the link between body fat and cognitive decline. Most previous research focused on older Western populations, neglecting the health and disease determinants of Asians, who comprise 60% of the world’s population.

Consistent Associations

The evaluation of HELIOS data revealed three parameters consistently associated with lower cognitive performance: increased visceral fat mass index, increased waist-to-hip ratio, and reduced high-density lipoprotein (“good cholesterol”). In contrast, parameters such as fat content in blood, blood pressure, and glycaemic indices showed no association with cognitive performance.

What is Visceral Fat

The body stores visceral fat within the abdominal cavity, where it surrounds internal organs like the liver, pancreas, and intestines. Sometimes referred to as “deep” or “hidden” fat, visceral fat is not visible from the outside. Visceral fat is different from subcutaneous fat, which is the fat found just beneath the skin.

Excessive visceral fat is associated with an increased risk of various health problems. They include type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and inflammation. It is also linked to metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. A healthy diet, regular physical activity, and proper stress management can help reduce visceral fat levels.

What is Lipoprotein

Lipoproteins, made up of lipids (fats) and proteins, are complex particles. They function as transport vehicles for lipids, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, in the bloodstream. Lipoproteins play a vital role in the metabolism of fats and are essential for maintaining proper cellular function and overall health.

There are several types of lipoproteins, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL).

  1. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL): Often referred to as “bad cholesterol,” LDL is responsible for carrying cholesterol from the liver to the cells. High levels of LDL can lead to plaque build-up in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  2. High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL): Known as “good cholesterol,” HDL helps remove excess cholesterol from the bloodstream and transports it back to the liver for elimination. High levels of HDL lower the risk of heart disease.
  3. Very-Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL): VLDL carries triglycerides, another type of fat, from the liver to the tissues. High levels of VLDL and triglycerides can contribute to the development of heart disease.

Maintaining healthy levels of lipoproteins is essential for good cardiovascular health. Lifestyle factors such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, and avoiding tobacco can help improve your lipoprotein profile.

Future Research

Following this study, LKCMedicine scientists plan to investigate how excess visceral fat across Asian ethnicities contributes to metabolic traits. They also aim to explore the impact of metabolic traits on specific areas of cognition. Therefore, this research could help develop strategies for preventing obesity and maintaining cognitive function in Asian populations.

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