Many people think of obesity as a physical ailment; the truth is, it’s a mental one, too.
Obesity is one of the worst conditions your body can experience. Organs all over your body are negatively affected by having too much weight, and though you may not believe it, a new study has found that the brain is affected as well.
But don’t despair: the same study found that when you lose your extra weight, you can reverse any damage you might have done to your brain and return to normal brain function.
This particular study examined participants who had gone through bariatric surgery (in which the stomach size is reduced by cutting a part of it out or tying it with a gastric band).
They found that people generally experienced positive boosts to their brain functions after these life changing surgeries.
However, this doesn’t mean that your only hope to regaining top brain function is through bariatric surgery; other studies have found that losing weight through exercise and proper diet can also help reverse body fat related brain damage.
How Body Fat Affects the Brain
It can be difficult to understand exactly how one’s weight would affect their brain power, but multiple studies have discovered this link. One study found that obese adults are 35% more likely than their lighter peers to develop Alzheimer’s as they age.
Why exactly is this the case? There are a number of theories.
Some research has found that the more body fat an individual has, the higher the number of proteins in the brain, which act as the catalyst for a chain of events that lead individuals to brain-harming diseases.
Another study done on mice found that fat cells commonly release a certain substance known as interleukin 1. When a body possesses too much of this substance, it can cause inflammation around the brain and thus slow down certain neural processes.
In the first study mentioned above, the researchers studied seventeen obese women before and after their bariatric surgery. Prior to the surgery, it was found that the brains of the obese women were metabolizing sugars at a rate much quicker than the brains of women who had normal weight.
They also found differences in cognitive function before and after the surgery: afterwards, the obese women displayed significant improvement in cognitive areas that they had difficulty in before the surgery. Finally, there was a general rise of function in the areas of organization and planning.
Researchers believe that these effects have something to do with the unique “cerebral metabolic activity” of the obese women’s brains.
The speed at which they processed sugar compared to people with normal weight could possibly cause structural damage to the brain, which can directly or indirectly cause or speed up cognitive decline.
The most important part is this: the structural damage was not permanent, as patients showed improvements in cognitive function immediately after the surgery.
Body Fat and the Brain: A Chain of Events
While it remains unclear what exactly is the relationship between body fat and a decline in cognitive function, most researchers believe that there is no single underlying cause.
Rather, the popular theory suggests that it’s more akin to a chain of events; a set of conditions that are caused by high body fat that leads to overall brain impairment, meaning there isn’t a single cause that can be identified.
For example, in one case it has been found that neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s can be intensified by insulin resistance in the body (insulin resistance caused by obesity).
This is because insulin resistance is commonly associated with oxidative stress, inflammation, and fatty acids.
Other studies have found that there are certain kinds of fat that have different effects on the brain. For example, the NIH has found that visceral fat raises your chances of developing insulin resistance.
Then there is belly fat, which is known for creating stress hormones that have been found to slow down cognitive function. These same stress hormones have been proven to be related to the body’s sensation of hunger.
The more of these hormones a person has, the more distorted an individual’s hunger and fullness will be in their mind, leading to overeating and obesity.
Studies continue to unravel the relationship between body fat and inflammation. Body fat has often been found to produce substances that lead to inflammation, and inflammation can be bad news for a number of body-related and brain-related diseases, including depression.
Understanding Body Fat and the Brain
It may be naïve to believe that there is only one universal fact that explains why high body fat leads to decreased cognitive ability, and waiting for this all-knowing research to come about may cause us to be too late in solving the problem.
It is better to accept that the brain is one of the most complex systems in the universe, and there will always be secrets about it that we do not completely understand.
But there is one undeniable truth: the link between high body fat and lower cognitive function has been proven time and time again. Regardless of how this link exists, it is important to keep your weight under control if you want to experience the full power of your brain.