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Men With Abdominal Fat at Risk of Bone Loss: Study

Update Date: Nov 28, 2012 08:13 AM EST

A new study suggests that men who have belly fat are at higher risk of osteoporosis. Visceral, or deep belly fat, could be a risk factor for bone loss and decreased bone strength in men, the study suggests.

"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," said Miriam Bredella, M.D., radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

It is already known that obesity entails a lot of health problems, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma, sleep apnea and joint diseases. However, it is a common, mistaken notion that the more the bodyweight in men, the lower their risk of bone loss.  

"Most studies on osteoporosis have focused on women. Men were thought to be relatively protected against bone loss, especially obese men," Dr. Bredella said.

However, there are various kinds of fats, the study says. Visceral or intra-abdominal fat lies deep under the muscle tissue in the abdominal cavity. Previous studies have linked excessive visceral fat to increased risk of heart diseases.

For the current study, the researchers observed and analyzed 35 obese men aged 34 on an average, with a mean BMI of 36.5. The researchers then conducted CT scans of the abdomen and thigh of the participants to assess fat and muscle mass, and forearms. Also, with the help of a technique called finite element analysis (FEA), they assessed the bone strength and predicted the fracture risk in the participants.

"FEA is a technique that is frequently used in mechanical engineering to determine the strength of materials for the design of bridges or airplanes, among other things," Dr. Bredella said. "FEA can determine where a structure will bend or break and the amount of force necessary to make the material break. We can now use FEA to determine the strength or force necessary to make a bone break."

The FEA analysis revealed that men with higher abdominal fat had lower failure load and stiffness, two measures of bone strength, when compared to men with lesser visceral and abdominal fat.  Age or total BMI seemed to make no difference in the bone mechanical properties.

"We were not surprised by our results that abdominal and visceral fat are detrimental to bone strength in obese men," Dr. Bredella said. "We were, however, surprised that obese men with a lot of visceral fat had significantly decreased bone strength compared to obese men with low visceral fat but similar BMI."

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

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