Belly fat -- the fat that's kept in your abdominal cavity -- has been linked with conditions like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and even early death. And now, a new study shows it could also be a risk factor for osteoporosis, at least for men.
Harvard researchers found an association between higher amounts of belly fat and decreased bone strength in men, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. (Past research has also drawn an association between belly fat and decreased bone mineral density in women.)
"It is important for men to be aware that excess belly fat is not only a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes, it is also a risk factor for bone loss," study researcher Dr. Miriam Bredella, M.D., of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a statement.
The study included 35 men with an average age of 34. Their average BMI was 36.5, which is within the range of obesity.
The study participants underwent CT scans of their abdomens and thighs so that the researchers could see how much fat and muscle mass they had. Their bone strength and risk of broken bones were also calculated by finite element analysis, which is a technique used to calculate the breaking or bending point of other materials (like those for bridges, etc.).
Researchers found that neither BMI nor age had any effect on bone strength tests, but the amount of belly fat did -- with the more belly fat a man had, the lower the score on bone strength measures. They also found an association between having more muscle mass and increased bone strength.
Because the findings have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be regarded as preliminary. But still, other studies have also suggested a link between fat and bone health, with a 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showing people with high body fat have weaker bones, compared with people with normal amounts of body fat. The study also showed that both those with high and normal amounts of body fat had similar bone strength (researchers had expected that people with more body fat would have greater bone strength).
Similarly, a 2007 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed that higher body fat is linked with lower bone mass, Reuters reported. The researchers of that study said that the previous thinking that obesity may actually boost bone mass, thereby serving as a protective factor against osteoporosis, is flawed because it does not take into account the toll a person's weight takes on bone mass.