There are plenty of well known reasons as to why being overweight or obese is unhealthy: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and the list goes on. But what some people probably aren’t aware of is the potential damage being overweight can have on an unlikely part of your body--your brain. A report in Science News discusses a study which has been done comparing memory, thinking, and reasoning abilities in those suffering from obesity before and after substantial weight loss. Perhaps what is even more interesting than the fact that obesity can diminish such abilities is that the damage has been shown to be reversible with weight loss.
This study, which was conducted at Kent State University, involved one hundred and fifty obese subjects. When tested on their cognitive abilities, the individuals generally performed with lower than average results when compared to healthy people based on data from the Brain Resource International Database. Two-thirds of this study’s subjects went on to take measures, including bariatric surgery, to lose approximately fifty pounds. Though still overweight (the average individual being tested originally weighed in at just less than three-hundred pounds), the lighter patients were reassessed. These patients showed a substantial increase in their scores, most of them scoring in the average or even above-average range. On the other hand, test subjects who did not go on to lose weight showed a decrease in their scores, a surprising result to the researchers. Neurologist Stefan Knecht quotes, “You can actually watch them getting worse from one three-month period to the next if you have sufficiently sensitive measures, which [they] did.”
This is not the first time brain function in relation to being overweight has been observed. An article in The New York times describes studies done in both California and Sweden that have shown that people in their forties who were overweight were more prone to dementia over the next several decades in their lives. One suggested reasoning for this is the hormone like leptin (which is thought to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s) which is secreted by fat tissue. Another hypothesis is that other secretions by fat tissue cause chronic inflammation of the brain, impairing one’s learning and memory functions.
A study done by previous mentioned neurologist Stefan Knecht at theUniversity of Münster in Germany used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show a linkage between C-reactive protein, a blood marker of systemic inflammation and white matter (a protective layer that insulates nerve cells in the brain) integrity. His findings showed that higher levels of CRP correlated with worse performance in areas such as speed and attention, otherwise known as “executive functions.”
If the risk of heart disease of diabetes is not enough to motivate overweight individuals to strap on a pair of walking shoes and start cutting down portions sizes, then perhaps knowing that their intellectual abilities are on the line will serve as the final push towards a reformed lifestyle.
Posted by Brianna Lee (2)