How does obesity affect the brain? This question has not been given nearly the amount of attention that it deserves. The majority of the population is instead focused solely around physical issues and the impact of excess body weight in relation to lifestyle. While these are indeed valid issues, we should remember that the body and mind are inextricably linked.
These observations seem to have been backed up by solid evidence and as more details come to light, the need to maintain a healthy body weight becomes even clearer. Let’s therefore delve into the somewhat unfamiliar topic of obesity and brain function. We can then conclude by discussing some positive changes that will provide long-term benefits from the very beginning.
Obesity and the Brain: A Brief Overview
There are several reasons why obesity can have an impact upon otherwise normal metabolic functions. One involves the simple fact that poor diets do not provide the brain with the vital nutrients it requires to send and receive electrical signals (for example, feelings of a “mental fog” during the downside of a sugar rush).
Unfortunately, this is only a single facet of a larger (and much more complicated) equation. One of the most frustrating issues is that scientists and neurologists still do not know exactly why brain function is impeded by excess body weight. There are nonetheless several disturbing correlations which have come to light in recent years. What have doctors already discovered?
Decreased Brain Volume
To be clear, the size of the brain will naturally decrease with age. The issue here is that the amount of white matter (substances within the brain that perform complicated mental tasks) is consistently lower in those who have been diagnosed with a high body mass index (BMI). In fact, it has been shown that obesity can even increase the biological age of your brain by up to ten years.
This is another term used to describe complex cognitive tasks such as memory recall, problem solving and planning future tasks. Such processes are carried out by the cortex (outer layer) of the brain. Research suggests that thinner cortices are often associated with overweight individuals. Interestingly enough, these effects seem to begin as early as childhood. Thus, it can be difficult to perform certain mental tasks that might otherwise be relatively simple.
Impeded Blood Flow
How does obesity affect the brain from a long-term perspective? Similar to any organ, the mind requires an adequate supply of oxygen to function properly. It has been known for some time that obesity is linked with decreased blood flow to peripheral areas such as the lower lumbar region and the tips of the fingers.
Obesity effects on the brain are similar due to the fact that specific regions (such as the temporal lobes) are unable to receive enough oxygen. Not only can this impair cognitive functioning (as mentioned above), but some studies hint that obesity may play a role in early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
The mind is a creature of habit. We are not only referring to psychological habituation in this sense. The neurons (nerves) within the brain will actually realign themselves to send and receive signals in a more efficient manner over time. This is known as the “chemical” component to addiction. Of course, such a scenario also impacts how some individuals crave unhealthy foods that they have become accustomed to over time.
The problem is that it can be difficult to physically realign neurons that have remained in a static position for an extended period of time. This is why breaking long-term habits involves much more than mental willpower alone.
Furthermore, research indicates that obese children find it more difficult to abstain from unhealthy foods when compared to peers of a normal weight (known as poor inhibitory control). It is therefore clear that addressing childhood obesity is one of the best ways to modify behaviors that may become more ingrained as they age.
Can Losing Weight Lead to a Healthier Brain?
Now that we have examined the relationship between obesity and brain function, it only stands to reason that losing weight should have a positive impact. While studies are ongoing (and many of these are longitudinal in nature), there is little doubt that adopting a healthier lifestyle by reducing your body mass index will yield numerous benefits. Here are some of the potential impacts upon the mind:
- Increased blood flow will lead to higher levels of alertness throughout the day.
- Improved cognitive functioning.
- Enhanced circulation can help to remove toxins found within the blood-brain barrier.
- A healthy diet will provide the brain with vital nutrients.
Finally, those who maintain a healthy body weight are less likely to experience psychological issues such as low self-esteem, social anxiety and depression. It should also be stressed that scientists are only now beginning to appreciate the relationship between obesity and the brain.
It is clear to see that any changes made at the present can lead to beneficial results from a long-term perspective. While you may be concerned with your physical health, always remember that the physical condition of your mind is just as important. From consulting with a nutritionist to experiencing the numerous benefits already attributed to the Spatz3 adjustable gastric balloon, numerous targeted solutions exist. How does obesity affect the brain? Answering this question is up to you.