Can Obesity Lead To Brain Damage?

Obesity is much more complicated than previously thought. A new study found that too much excess weight could lead to brain damage. 

Researchers discovered a link between obesity and white matter in the brain. Obese people experience changes in the corpus callosum and the middle orbitofrontal gyrus areas of their brain.

Those areas play key roles in appetite, emotions and cognition, according to Pamela Bertolazzi, study co-author and a graduate student at the University of São Paulo. The changes triggered by obesity negatively affect how the brain ages and people’s appetite control, Inverse reported Monday.

Another key finding in the study is that obesity triggered inflammation in the body, which moves to the brain. The findings come from the analysis of brain scans of 59 obese adolescents. 

The brain of obese people appeared with high levels of biomarkers for inflammation. They also had increased levels of the hormones insulin and leptin, which controls hunger and fat storage. 

Researchers said the altered levels of leptin and insulin indicate white matter loss. The study will be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. 

The latest findings add to the growing evidence of how obesity triggers a series of changes in the body that could lead to brain damage. Earlier studies suggested that obesity could alter brain structure and function in different ways. 

A 2014 research found the condition could trigger brain shrinkage. It occurs due to increased inflammation in areas outside the brain. 

When the body responds to those inflammation, the brain also reacts, leading to changes in how neurons communicate with each other. 

Another review of studies in 2017 found obesity also negatively affect aging. But researchers also found ways to reduce the effects of obesity on the brain. 

One study suggested that caloric restriction, exercise or bariatric surgery could help improve cognitive function in obese people. However, more studies are needed to further understand how significant excess weight affects the brain. 

The findings may help improve treatments for millions of people around the world who are obese, including 94 million Americans. 

Brain Scan A picture of a human brain taken by a positron emission tomography scanner, also called PET scan, is seen on a screen on January 9, 2019, at the Regional and University Hospital Center of Brest, western France. Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images