Possible Benefits for Brain Function from Obesity Treatment

WI (In Memoriam)The potential for benefits to brain function with effective obesity treatment is becoming difficult to miss. In particular, a new observational study of brain function in a cohort of patients receiving metabolic surgery for treatment of obesity is drawing much attention right now in JAMA Network Open. It suggests the possibility of a lasting benefit for brain function.

Impressive Despite Limitations

Let’s say up front that the study has its limitations. It is observational and it lacks a group.

Nonetheless, it is striking that global cognition scores improved after surgery. Even two years later, an improvement of 20% over scores before surgery was still evident. Neurologist Shaheen Lakhan, who was not involved in this study, was impressed:

“Taken together, the research intimates bariatric surgery’s potential protective effects against dementia manifest through both weight-related brain changes and reducing cardiovascular risk factors.

“These remarkable neurological transformations intimate this surgery represents a pivotal opportunity to combat the parallel public health crises of obesity and dementia threatening society.

“In demonstrating a durable cognitive and brain boost out years beyond surgery, patients now have an emphatic answer – these aren’t short-lived benefits but rather profound improvements propelling them positively for the rest of life.”

Investigators also noted improvements in structure and function of the brain two years after surgery in these patients.

Obesity and Brain Health

In part, these findings draw attention because of recent evidence linking obesity to declines in brain function. In the journal of Degenerative Neurological and Neuromuscular Disease, Paul Kueck, Jill Morris, and John Stanford offer a helpful review.

“Obesity is a complex disease influenced by numerous factors. These include energy expenditure, mitochondrial dysfunction, insulin resistance, adipose tissue accumulation, skeletal muscle alterations, liver involvement, gut microbiota dysregulation, inflammation, and oxidative stress. These factors contribute to metabolic dysfunction and increase the risk of developing chronic diseases, including neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.”

Still, we have much to learn about the link between obesity and diminished brain function. But we also have good reason for hope that improved obesity treatment can reduce this risk.

Click here for the study in JAMA Network Open and here for the review by Kueck, Morris, and Stanford. For further perspective, click here, here, and here.

WI (In Memoriam), painting by Paul Klee / WikiArt

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February 20, 2024