Understanding why some older women lose weight quickly


For older women, rapid weight loss can sometimes signal more than just shedding pounds. It may hint at underlying health issues and pose risks like falls, fractures and even a higher chance of cognitive decline.

New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) delves into the factors behind rapid weight loss in older women, shining a light on a potential connection with abdominal aortic calcification (AAC), a marker of advanced blood vessel disease.

Dr Cassandra Smith, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at ECU, led the study involving 929 older women. The findings revealed that AAC was associated with a higher risk of rapid weight loss over a five-year period.

Rapid weight loss, defined as more than a five per cent decrease in body weight within a year over five years, was observed in 39.4 per cent of the participants. This phenomenon was linked with a 49 per cent increase in the risk of mortality over the next 9.5 years. For those experiencing a rapid weight loss of over ten per cent within a year, the risk of death spiked to 87 per cent.

Among women with moderate to extensive AAC, the likelihood of rapid weight loss increased by 36 per cent to 58 per cent over the five-year period. Even after adjusting for dietary factors and other health measures, this association persisted.

Dr Smith highlighted the potential impact of AAC on blood flow to the gut, which could affect nutrient absorption, leading to weight loss. This finding challenges the traditional approach of boosting protein and energy intake to address weight loss in older individuals.

Moving forward, Dr. Smith emphasised the need to replicate these findings in other studies and explore measures of blood flow and nutrient absorption to better understand the relationship between AAC and weight loss.

Identifying AAC as a potential risk factor for rapid weight loss opens doors for cardiovascular disease screening and prompts consideration of other health issues influencing body composition in older women.

“The next steps of this research are to replicate these findings in other cohorts, to perform studies with blood flow measures and the capacity to track macronutrient absorption,” Dr Smith said.

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.

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