Three Clues for Treating Obesity in the Brain

Brain function appears to be linked with obesity in a number of ways that neurosicientists are only beginning to understand. In Physiology & Behavior, Ashley Martin and Terry Davidson recently published a detailed review of clues that link cognitive function to obesity in a vicious cycle where the distinction between cause and effect are blurred. These insights provide clues for interventions that can interrupt the cycle to stop both cognitive decline and potentially lead to improved treatments for obesity.

  1. Obesity and Cognitive DeclineHippocampus Dysfunction. A growing body of evidence suggests that obesity induced by a diet high in saturated fats and simple carbohydrates is linked to dysfunction in the brain’s hippocampus.
  2. Increased Response to Food Cues. The resulting dysfunction impairs cognitive processes that equip people to control impulsive responses to food cues. As one’s capacity to suppress responses to food cues declines, exposure to unhealthy foods increases and perpetuates the cycle.
  3. Benefits of Lifestyle Interventions. Considerable effort is going into interventions that can stop or reverse this sort of cognitive decline and interrupt this cycle. Napoli et al recently showed that weight loss and exercise can improve cognition and health-related quality of life in older adults with obesity. At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference last week, Kivipelto et al presented results of a randomized controlled trial of diet, exercise, and other behavioral interventions to prevent cognitive decline in older adults at risk. This and other work is providing clues for interrupting the vicious cycle of obesity and cognitive decline.

These clues are laying the groundwork for further innovation and more effective treatments to stop and reverse both cognitive decline and obesity.

“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.” — Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Click here to read the paper by Martin and Davidson, here to read the study by Napoli et al. and here for the study by Kivipelto et al.

Bulbhead, photograph © Miguelángel Guédez / flickr

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