Brain Tonic

Obesity on the Brain

Neuroscience researchers meeting in Washington DC this week seem to have obesity on the brain. The Society for Neuroscience highlighted four abstracts from their annual meeting that focus on ways that diet and obesity alter brain and behavior. Once again, we have a hint that the relationship between diet, physical activity, and obesity is a two-way street. Here’s what was noteworthy:

  1. Link between obesity and a shrinking hippocampus. Nicolas Cherbuin and colleagues followed 420 adults aged 60-64 for eight years and found that the hippocampus size of subjects with higher BMI was significantly smaller and shrank significantly more during the course of the study. Shrinkage of the hippocampus — an area of the brain that plays a critical role in long-term memory — is a hallmark of cognitive decline. One possible mechanism for that shrinkage is chronic inflammation, which animal studies have shown rises and falls with the increase or decrease of fat tissue.
  2. Prenatal exposure to high-fat diets can alter brain function. In this study of monkeys, researchers found significant changes in the prefrontal cortex that can explain differences in dietary preferences of offspring later in life. Changes were found in dopamine pathways that regulate the rewarding properties of food.
  3. Potential for a high-fructose diet to alter brain function. This rat study showed that adolescent rats with a high fructose diet developed a persistent depressive response to stress. This animal study provides clues for research to better understand the impact of diet on children and adolescents.
  4. Potential for ghrelin to preserve brain function in Parkinson’s disease. New animal research suggests that the hormone ghrelin plays a pivotal role in helping a calorie-restricted diet reduce brain-cell damage associated with Parkinson’s disease in rats. Ghrelin — known as the hunger hormone — may offer important clues for new therapies in Parkinson’s disease.

Taken together, these results provide insight into progress in understanding the dynamic interplay between brain function, nutrition, and obesity.

Click here to read more from the Society for Neuroscience.

Brain Tonic, photograph © graywolfx47 / flickr

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