LivingThis is how obesity affects the brain

This is how obesity affects the brain

From the size and functionality of the brain to specific neural circuits, recent studies have revealed important aspects of the connection between obesity and the brain. For example, a recent study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences showed that the brain’s prefrontal cortex, an area that is important for complex thinking, planning and self-control, is less active in people who tend to overeat, which is which can lead to obesity and weight gain.

We have also identified a number of neurons that can control overfeeding when activated. New work adds to this evidence, shedding more light on the connection between obesity and differences in the structure and shape of the brain.

Ilona A. Dekkers, from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, led a team of researchers who used MRI scanning technology to understand the link between obesity and brain structure.

Their findings revealed smaller gray matter volumes in obese people , solidifying the results of previous research. They also found connections to the shape and structure of the brain, which we know as brain morphology.

More body fat, less gray matter volume

The goal was to examine how obesity might affect the brain, as previous studies had found an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia among obese people. The experts examined the brain scans of more than 12,000 people who took part in the UK Biobank Imaging study . The brain imaging techniques the team used in the study provided data on the participants’ gray and white matter.

Gray matter is packed with neurons, while white matter consists mainly of nerve projections called
axons and glial cells.

The researchers found that “having higher levels of fat distributed throughout the body is associated with smaller volumes of important brain structures, including gray matter structures found in the center of the brain.”

“Interestingly, we observed that these associations are different for men and women, suggesting that gender is an important modifier of the link between the percentage of fat and the size of specific brain structures, ” the authors add in the journal Radiology.

Specifically, obese men had lower gray matter volumes both overall and in certain reward-processing circuits and brain structures that deal with movement. For women with obesity, or na more body fat it is only associated with a lower volume of material in a region called the globus pallidus, which is an area of the brain that plays a role in voluntary movement.

In both men and women, there was a connection between higher amounts of body fat and the possibility of small changes in the white matter of the brain.

“Our study shows that collecting a large amount of MRI data can lead to a better understanding of which brain structures are involved in all kinds of health outcomes, such as obesity,” explains Dekkers.

Study implications

Less gray matter could mean fewer neurons, experts say, and changes in white matter could affect communication between neurons, the synapse.

“For future research, it would be of great interest to see if the differences in the distribution of body fat are related to the differences in the morphological structure of the brain, since visceral fat is a known risk factor for metabolic disease and is related with low-grade systemic inflammation, “says Hildo Lamb, leader of the work.

Referencia: Obesity, Brain Volume, and White Matter Microstructure at MRI: A Cross-sectional UK Biobank Study Ilona A. Dekkers , Philip R. Jansen, Hildo J. Lamb. RADIOLOGY 2019 DOI:


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