What Weight Loss Does to the Brain

New research shows weight loss surgery can reverse the negative effects body fat may have on the brain.

Scientists say too much fat weighs down not just the body, but also the brain.Obesity harms most organs in the body, and new research suggests that the brain is no exception. What’s more, the researchers found that getting rid of excess fat actually improves brain function.

The new study, which focused on people who underwent bariatric surgery, found that the procedure had positive effects on the brain, but other research has shown that less invasive weight loss strategies, like exercise, can also reverse brain damage thought to be related to body fat.

Obese men and women are estimated to be about 35 per cent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to people of a normal weight. Some research suggests that body fat raises the number of proteins in the brain that trigger a cascade of events that predisposes a person to the disease, and other research in mice has suggested that fat cells release a substance called interleukin 1, which can cause severe inflammation and, in turn, messed up the brain.

In a recent study, a team of researchers looked at 17 obese women prior to bariatric surgery and found that their brains metabolised sugars faster than the brains of a control group of women at a normal weight.

The women underwent cognitive function tests before their surgery as well as after. The results show that after surgery, the obese women showed improvement in the troubling brain activity seen prior to going under the knife, and they performed better on their cognitive function tests especially in the area of executive function, which is used during planning and organisation.

It is possible that the long-term cerebral metabolic activity meaning the way the brains of obese people process sugars leads to structural damage that can hasten or contribute to cognitive decline, the authors write in their paper.

“The more we understand about body fat, the clearer it becomes that belly fat is its own disease-generating organism,” said Lenore Launer, chief of NIA’s neuroepidemiology section.

The bottom line is that excess body fat has a laundry list of effects on the body, and none of them are good. But on the bright side, getting rid of that fat should reverse some of the blips body fat is leaving on the brain.

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