Obesity and Cognitive Function

Recently, I came across a science news article regarding obesity and instantly associated it with diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. But as I read on, I learned that a team of scientists have shown that obesity messes with the brain in that it subtly diminishes memory, and other cognitive function like reasoning and thinking. While some of these impairments appear to be reversible through weight loss, damage to the wirings of the brain should never be taken lightly.

As with most studies, the exact causation of these impairments is hard to isolate as obesity is linked with so many other physiological malfunctions, such as hypertension. To confirm that it is actually the obesity that is responsible for the impairments –and not the –hypertension, the subjects used for the study were to shortly undergo weight-loss surgery. The 300 pound subjects were tested before and 12 weeks after the bariatric surgery. The researchers report that the lighter, but still heavy, patients scored substantially better on all cognitive tests in The Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases. The subjects that didn’t undergo surgery or experience any substantial weight loss, performed notably worse on the second test. John Gunstad of Kent State University reflects that the poor performance indicates a rapid, continuing drop in cognitive function.

Gunstad also reports MRI observations as signs of damage in white matter of obese persons, whereas normal-weight or overweight people do not show traces of these signs. The cognitive impairments are a result of the diminishing condition of the white matter region of the brain. If hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes aren’t enough sources of motivation for obese individuals to lose weight, maybe diminishing cognitive function is.

Written by: Jaymin Patel


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