Decoding the Body-Brain Connection: Muscle Fat as a Predictor of Cognitive Decline

Elderly Man Dementia Concept

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, increased fat within the body’s muscle, known as muscle adiposity, is linked to cognitive decline in aging individuals.

New research indicates that higher muscle adiposity, or fat within the body’s muscles, may increase the likelihood of cognitive decline during aging.

A study involving 1,634 older adults found that increasing muscle fat over a 5-year period was associated with faster cognitive decline, independent of weight, other fat deposits, muscle characteristics, and traditional dementia risk factors. Understanding the connection between muscle fat and the brain and exploring the potential of reducing muscle adiposity to lower dementia risk are crucial next steps.

New research reveals that the level of fat within the body’s muscle—or muscle adiposity—may indicate a person’s likelihood of experiencing cognitive decline as they age. In the study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 5-year increase in fat stored in the thigh muscle was a risk factor for cognitive decline. This risk was independent of total weight, other fat deposits, and muscle characteristics (such as muscle strength or mass) and also independent of traditional dementia risk factors.

Investigators assessed muscle fat in 1,634 adults 69–79 years of age at years 1 and 6 and evaluated their cognitive function at years 1, 3, 5, 8, and 10. Increases in muscle adiposity from year 1 to year 6 were associated with faster and more cognitive decline over time. The findings were similar for Black and white men and women.

“Our data suggest that muscle adiposity plays a unique role in cognitive decline, distinct from that of other types of fat or other muscle characteristics,” said corresponding author Caterina Rosano, MD, MPH, of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health. “If that is the case, then the next step is to understand how muscle fat and the brain ‘talk’ to each other, and whether reducing muscle adiposity can also reduce dementia risk.”

Reference: “Increase in skeletal muscular adiposity and cognitive decline in a biracial cohort of older men and women” by Caterina Rosano MD, MPH, Anne Newman MD, MPH, Adam Santanasto PhD, Xiaonan Zhu PhD, Bret Goodpaster PhD and Iva Miljkovic MD, PhD, 7 June 2023, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
DOI: 10.1111/jgs.18419

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