High Angular Resolution Diffusion Image of Human Brain

Brain Activity in Obesity and Obesity Treatment

Two fascinating new studies in the journal Diabetes provide new evidence for the importance of brain activity in obesity and its treatment. The first study documents significant differences in brain response to drinking sugar between adolescents who have obesity and adolescents who have a lean BMI. The second demonstrates how a new obesity treatment – lorcaserin – alters the brain’s response to food.

Ania Jastreboff used functional MRI scans to identify the response to drinking glucose and fructose in 38 adolescents, 14 who had a lean BMI and 24 with obesity. Though the study has limitations – it is observational and the number of subjects was small – the investigators found important differences in the brain’s response to sugar for adolescents with obesity. Drinking sugar suppressed executive function (decision-making). It activated appetite and hedonic functions (pleasure-seeking). The authors noted that these changes would serve to promote further weight gain in adolescents with obesity.

In the second study, Olivia Farr and colleagues randomized people with obesity to receive either lorcaserin (Belviq) or placebo and studied their responses to visual food cues after four weeks. They found “clear changes in brain responses to food cues with lorcaserin therapy.” They conclude:

These data suggest that lorcaserin exerts its weight reducing effects by decreasing attention-related brain activations to food cues (parietal and visual cortices), as well as emotional/limbic activity (insula, amygdala). Results indicating that baseline activation of the amygdala relates to increased efficacy suggest that lorcaserin would be of particular benefit to emotional eaters.

The findings of these two studies add to the understanding that asking people with obesity simply to make better choices about food is somewhat analogous to asking someone with depression to “cheer up.”

For many people with obesity, treatment is necessary to equip them to make those better choices.

Click here for the study by Jastreboff et al and  here for the study by Farr et al.

High Angular Resolution Diffusion Image of Human Brain, image by Viviana Siless, PhD via the NIH Image Gallery on flickr

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July 12, 2016

2 Responses to “Brain Activity in Obesity and Obesity Treatment”

  1. July 12, 2016 at 10:06 am, Stephen Phillips said:

    Bariatric Science is a science that embodies the research, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of obsesities and related disorders.
    Finally the myth of “willful misconduct” as the cause of obesity is being replaced with a sound empirical science that identifies the very powerful genetic biological mechanisms that underpin the cause of most obesities.
    This elegant journal study is a shining example of Bariatric Science, a science whose time has come.
    Perhaps the new obesity RX will be….. exercise less myth and eat more science

    Stephen Phillips
    American Association of Bariatric Counselors

  2. July 13, 2016 at 12:18 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Mr. Phillips,

    Is that your quote – “exercise less myth and eat more science”?

    May I borrow it?