Obesity Affects More than the Waistline

We know that obesity is hard on the body, potentially leading to a number of serious conditions, including type II diabetes, hypertension and certain cancers. This is old news, but thanks to technology and advanced types of brain imaging, it seems that maintaining a normal weight is just important for brain health.

Obesity and Memory

Through a number of scientific studies, researchers are finding that people with a high body mass index (BMI) have a harder time navigating a simple treasure hunt and a decreased ability to recall the location of certain objects. Not surprisingly, similar results were found with obese rats placed in a maze.

There is evidence that obesity may also significantly increase the risk of Azheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. Sophisticated brain mapping reveals that obese individuals actually have reduced tissues in several areas of the brain, including the hippocampus, associated with long-term memory; and the frontal and temporal lobes, responsible for memory and planning.

Obesity may also affect our ability to remember past events, and to use those recollections to predict the likely outcome of future events.

Studies also indicate that obese people have an average of eight percent less brain tissue than people of normal weight, while people who are considered overweight but not obese have a four percent reduction in tissue. They also found that memory loss associated with a high BMI may be even more pronounced in post-menopausal women.

Researchers also observed that the brains of obese individuals look significantly older than their years would suggest.

Searching for Reasons

While there is little doubt that obesity affects the size of the brain, researchers aren’t sure why this shrinkage occurs. Some scientists speculate that extra body fat triggers inflammation, which in turn stresses the body and brain.

Others think that the belly fat of obese individuals may release a unique combination of hormones that impact the body in many ways, including a reduction in brain tissue. An increase in blood sugar levels can also trigger inflammation.

Obviously, more research is required before we have any solid answers, but it’s likely that a number of factors are involved.

The Takeaway

The takeaway is that poor eating and excess weight likely contribute to a variety of memory problems that grow in severity as we age. On the other hand, maintaining a normal weight by eating a healthy diet may reduce the risk of dementia and other age-related problems.

A Healthy Diet is Critical during Drug and Alcohol Treatment and Rehab

Damage to the brain and the associated impact on cognition and memory are compounded for people who abuse drugs and alcohol. At Paracelsus, we encourage those in drug and alcohol treatment and rehab to develop healthy eating habits, which can reduce depression, minimize the risk of relapse, and improve overall health.

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