It’s a well-known fact that obesity can have a wide range of health impacts. We’ve discussed many of these issues on this blog, including how obesity can reduce your lifespan, increase your risk of cancer and cause cardiovascular and musculoskeletal problems.
But did you know that obesity also affects your brain? There is a small but growing body of evidence that shows that obesity can have detrimental effects on your most vital organ.
The Link Between Obesity and Brain-Related Problems
In recent years, scientists across the world have conducted studies to determine how obesity affects the brain. Their emerging conclusion is that obesity can cause a range of problems for the brain.
- Memory deficits
- Age-related brain degeneration, including the development of neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s Disease
Studies show that obesity is linked to brain shrinkage and memory deficits. In a University of Cambridge study, researchers found that a higher a participant’s BMI (body mass index) was, the lower they performed on memory tasks.
This could be because obesity may actually affect the structure of the brain. A Boston University School of Medicine study found that individuals with excess fat tend to exhibit lower overall brain volume.
Besides memory deficits, obesity could also have an effect on brain aging. Another study, which utilized brain scanning, showed that being overweight or obese corresponds with a greater degree of age-related brain degeneration.
Our brains change during the natural aging process. As we become older, the brain loses white matter and shrinks. Studies have shown that obese people have less white matter in their brains compared to normal-weight individuals.
The Relationship Between Obesity and the Brain
The changes that obesity prompts the brain to undergo may also fuel obesity in turn.
Dopamine is a chemical that occurs in the brain and causes us to feel pleasure. One study found that individuals with higher BMIs have a lower concentration of dopamine receptors. In other words, the brain is unable to process the chemical that tells it to feel happy.
That means that people who are obese may not feel pleasure after eating meals of normal proportions, causing them to overeat to feel satisfied.
Past studies have also shown a link between memory and eating habits. Put simply, if someone doesn’t remember eating, they’re more likely to eat. Because obesity may have a detrimental effect on memory, scientists hypothesize that memory deficits can result in overeating among people who are already obese.
Because obesity and brain function are highly complex phenomena, scientists are still determining the precise relationship between obesity and brain problems.
While many questions still remain, Dr. Dirk says, “There is no question that obesity accelerates and worsens various medical conditions and thus can be considered an ‘age accelerator.'”
What Can You Do To Fight Obesity?
While the science is still unsettled, it is very likely that obesity has a negative effect on the brain, and it is certain that obesity causes a range of other problems for the body.
Fortunately, the solution is simple. According to Dr. Dirk, “The simplest way deal with obesity is to prevent it. But if you’re already overweight or obese, you should actively work to reverse it with good nutrition and exercise. If nutrition and exercise fail to produce meaningful results within one year, it’s time to consider your obesity surgery options.”