This Is How Overeating Damages The Brain, According To A New Study
When it comes to overeating, many of us worry about weight gain. But a higher number on the scale or too-tight skinny jeans aren't the the only side effect of eating too much. In fact, a new study shows that obesity can damage important regions in the brain, leading to brain damage.
The research, which will be presented at the next annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to compare the brains of 59 obese adolescents with 61 healthy adolescents. DTI is a new type of MRI technology that tracks the diffusion of water along the brain's white matter, which is the nerve-fiber-rich matter found in the deeper tissues of the brain.
From the University of São Paulo in Brazil, the researchers derived a measure called a fractional anisotropy (FA) from the results, which correlates with the condition of the white matter in each participant's brain. The lower the FA, the more damage there was to the white matter.
When they compared the FA values of all the participants, the results showed lower FA values in obese participants, especially in the corpus callosum, a part of the brain that connects the left and right hemispheres, and the oribitofrontal gyrus, which is in charge of emotional control and the reward circuit.
So what does this damage to the brain mean in practice? As co-author of the study, Pamela Bertolazzi, explained: "Brain changes found in obese adolescents related to important regions responsible for control of appetite, emotions, and cognitive functions."
The type of damage observed was similar to that caused by inflammatory markers like leptin (a hormone that regulates hunger and fat stores) and increased blood sugar and insulin resistance, which are hallmark factors in diabetes. "Our maps showed a positive correlation between brain changes and hormones such as leptin and insulin," said Bertolazzi, who also pointed out that inflammation is the connecting factor in all these health issues related to obesity. In other words, obesity causes inflammation, which leads to brain damage as well as blood sugar issues, insulin resistance, and leptin resistance.
Next, Bertolazzi's team plans to investigate whether or not this obesity-related brain damage is reversible through dietary and lifestyle changes that promote weight loss.
Until then, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding over-eating is the best way to protect your brain from this type of damage. Just remember: fad diets and counting calories are not the answer. Instead, turn to one of the healthiest ways to lose weight, according to mindbodygreen's top experts.
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