Obesity is now linked to a major brain problem

As scientists and doctors continue to make discoveries and better understand the inner workings of the human body, it’s become more and more apparent that few health issues occur in a vacuum.

Problems or imbalances in one bodily area often manifest symptoms in entirely different organs or body parts. Our stomachs and guts can experience distress and discomfort in response solely to psychological stressors, for example. 

Now, a truly revolutionary research project has detected an unexpected new health concern linked to obesity. Researchers from The University of South Australia and Deakin University have collected considerable evidence showing obese individuals have reduced brain plasticity. 

What exactly does that mean? Reduced blain plasticity indicates the mind isn’t as capable as it should be at learning new information or recalling memories/past events. Put in more scientific terms, reduced brain plasticity means obese people have a harder time re-wiring their brains and finding new neural pathways.

Learning and memory skills are important for anyone at any given point in a person’s life, but the study’s authors say their findings are particularly noteworthy for obese individuals recovering from a stroke or brain injury. Establishing and using new neural pathways is a major part of recovering from any neural problem. So, these findings, reached via transcranial magnetic solution, suggest that losing weight is a big part of the neural recovery process for these patients.

“A growing number of people are obese – 650 million according to the World Health Organization – which not only has health consequences but is a serious financial burden for global health systems,” comments study co-author Dr. Brenton Hordacre, a researcher at UNISA, in a press release. “These new findings suggest that losing weight is particularly important for healthy brain ageing or for recovery in people who suffer strokes or brain injuries, where learning is fundamental for recovery.”

A total of 15 obese individuals (ages 18-60) took part in this study, as well as 15 other subjects classified as having “healthy weight” (to serve as a control group). All participants were exposed to repeated rounds of electrical brain stimulation, and the research team looked to see how strongly each person’s brain reacted to that stimulation.

Participants within a normal weight range showed much more robust brain activity in response to the transcranial magnetic stimulation sessions in comparison to the obese subjects. These readings, the study’s authors say, were indicative of healthy brain plasticity levels. Conversely, the obese subjects displayed “minimal” neural activity after the stimulation sessions, suggesting impaired brain plasticity.

“Obesity is already associated with a raft of adverse health effects, including a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, and dementia,” Dr. Hordacre explains. “For the first time, we found that obesity was associated with impaired brain function, adding further support for the need to address the obesity epidemic.

The magnitude of these findings can’t be overstated. This is the first piece of concrete physiological evidence of a direct relationship between obesity and brain plasticity problems.

It’s old news that obesity can seriously hamper the quality of one’s life from a purely physical perspective. Now, this study is making a strong case that it can be detrimental to memory skills and learning abilities as well. 

The full study can be found here, published in Brain Sciences.