5 Important Ways Obesity Affects the Brain

Putting on the pounds not only transforms your belly, but it also alters your brain, a number of studies suggest.
These brain changes may, in turn, fuel overeating, leading to a vicious cycle that makes losing weight and keeping it off challenging.

Here are five ways obesity can cause changes the brain:

1. Obesity causes food ‘addiction’ Gaining weight may desensitize the brain to the pleasure we get from sugary and fatty foods, prompting us to eat more cookies and cake than we did when we were leaner, research shows. A similar effect is seen in drug users, who eventually require more cocaine or heroin in order to achieve their original high. Research on animals has also shown rats fed a diet rich in sugar and fats are less sensitive to the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter dopamine.

2. Obesity may make us more impulsive In obese children, a region of the brain in charge of controlling impulsively, called the orbitofrontal cortex, and appears to be shrunken compared with that of lean children. Moreover, the smaller this brain region was, the more likely the adolescents were to eat impulsively. Obesity is known to cause changes to the immune system, boosting inflammation in the body. This increased inflammation may impact the brain and lead to a vicious cycle, where the obesity leads to inflammation … this damages certain parts of the brain, which in turn leads to more disinhibited eating and more obesity.

3. Obesity raises the risk of dementia Having more belly fat is associated with decrease in total brain volume in middle-aged adults. It is possible that the extra fat triggers inflammation, which puts stress on the body and perhaps impacts the brain. The studies suggest something particular about belly fat, playing a role in reducing brain size. This type of fat releases a unique profile of hormones, which may impact the body in a manner different from the hormones released by subcutaneous fat, or fat under the skin. Previous studies have found that people with smaller brain volumes are at higher risk for dementia, and tend to do poorer on cognitive tests.

4. Yo-yo dieting may prompt binge eating under stress It’s not just putting on weight that alters the brain but taking it off does too, studies suggest. Dieting may change how the brain responds to stress , so that the next time we find ourselves in a bind, or just plain frazzled, we eat more. In the study, researchers put a group of mice on a diet so that they lost 10 to 15 % of their body weight. Then, the mice were allowed to put the weight back on, similar to the way human dieters often see the pounds creep back. When the mice were exposed to stressful situations, such as hearing sounds at nighttime, they ate more food than those who had never been placed on a diet.

5. Obesity harms memory Obesity may impair memory, at least for women after menopause. A study in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society looked at memory test scores women ages 65 to 79. The higher the BMI, the lower the score on the memory test. Hormones released by fat could impair memory. These hormones can cause inflammation, which may affect cognition.

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