The Effects Of Weight Loss On Your Brain

Is Fat Dangerous To Your Mind?

Did you know that excess body fat isn’t just bad for your body, but can be detrimental to your brain as well?

Our bodies and brains all work in a series of interconnected systems, so what affects one eventually affects the rest. Let’s learn a bit about how our brains react to your body being overweight, then how weight loss can actually reverse these effects!

Obesity harms most organs in the body, and new research suggests the brain is no exception. What’s more, the researchers found that getting rid of excess fat actually improves brain function, reversing the ill effects of the extra weight. 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.

Here’s why that matters: Obese men and women are estimated to be about 35% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to people of a normal weight. Some research suggests that body fat ups the number of proteins in the brain that trigger a cascade of events that predispose someone 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, gunk 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 metabolized 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 organization. The findings suggest that the fat loss reversing its bad effects on the brain.

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.

Researchers are still trying to understand the exact effects of body fat on the brain, but one theory is that it’s a chain-of-events-type of scenario. For instance, insulin resistance has become linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s because insulin resistance is associated with an increase in fatty acids, inflammation and oxidative stress. Insulin resistance is a metabolic disorder, that can be brought on by obesity. Other theories have to do with the effects of certain kinds of fat. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) points out that visceral fat, the most damaging type of body fat, ups a person’s likelihood of developing insulin resistance, and on top of that, belly fat can produce stress hormones that can also hinder cognition. Other research has shown that the stress hormones are tied to hunger signaling, and those disruptions can alter a person’s sense of hunger and fullness and can contribute to obesity.

“The more we understand about [body fat], the clearer it becomes that belly fat is its own disease-generating organism,” said Dr. Lenore Launer, chief of NIA’s Neuroepidemiology Section of the Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography, and Biometry in an NIH statement.
– via TIME.com

But The Effects Don’t Have To Last!

The good news is that even if your brain does suffer from excess weight, by investing in your health and losing weight, you can improve your brain’s health as well!

What do you do if you’re worried that your weight is putting your mind in danger?

Change your diet, and change it fast. “It’s about biology,” Aronne is fond of saying. While some damage to the hypothalamus may be permanent, it’s possible to reverse much of it. “If less fatty food comes in, it reduces the rate of damage,” he explains, noting that it doesn’t matter so much which specific diet you follow, as long as it’s one that cuts calories, reduces fat, and reduces simple carbohydrates.

Of course, there are lots of trendy diets, such as the Fast Diet currently making headlines. And there’s no reason not to try a new approach and see if it works better for you than the ones you’ve tried in the past. But work with your body, not against it, Aronne says, and the weight will come off much faster.

But wait, there’s more. Retooling your diet to be rich in health-promoting foods can stop and even reverse the damage done by an unhealthy one. In the above-mentioned study at the University of Liverpool, the researchers also looked at the impact of omega-3 fatty acids, known to be beneficial to brain health. And sure enough, fish oil appears to modulate some of the negative effects of the saturated fats and carbs.

What that means, in effect, is that switching to a healthy diet can heal the hypothalamic damage that’s playing havoc with your hunger and satiety cues.  Not surprisingly, Aronne has authored his own diet book (with coauthor Alisa Bowman), The Skinny: The Ultimate Guide to Weight Loss Success (2010). It features lean meat, plenty of seafood, lots of vegetables and fruit, and unprocessed grains. There’s also more information on Aronne and his views on brain signaling and weight loss available on the Weill Cornell Medical College website.

But here’s secret number two: Permanent weight loss takes time. Aronne is quick to point out that many of those who’ve dropped massive amounts of weight on The Biggest Loser have gained most of it back again within a year or two. Once again, science suggests the problem is that it takes time for the brain’s metabolic messaging system to heal.
– via Forbes

What do you think about this research? Does it change the way you look at weight loss?

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