Obesity and the brain: Why some overweight people just can’t stop eating

The obesity epidemic impacts people of all ages and socioeconomic levels and combines social and psychological aspects.

This widespread problem poses a formidable challenge to both developed and developing nations. By 2000, the global tally of obese adults had surged to exceed 300 million [1].

Approximately 51% of the world’s population (5 billion people) will be overweight or obese by 2035 if current trends continue, according to the World Obesity Federation’s atlas [2].

A study conducted by researchers at McGill University has uncovered a significant link between obesity-related health issues and neurodegeneration, a condition closely resembling Alzheimer’s disease. This groundbreaking discovery sheds light on the intricate relationship between our metabolic health and cognitive function.

In this study, scientists discovered the connection between obesity and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is a well-known and devastating condition characterized by the accumulation of abnormal protein aggregates in the brain, leading to memory loss and cognitive decline.

The researchers wanted to understand whether obesity, a global health concern, might share common pathways with Alzheimer’s disease.

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To investigate this, they used advanced imaging techniques to examine the brains of obese mice. What they found was startling.

The brains of these obese mice exhibited similar pathological hallmarks to those seen in Alzheimer’s patients. There was a noticeable buildup of tau protein tangles, a key feature of Alzheimer’s [3].

This tau pathology was observed in regions of the brain linked with memory and cognitive function, underlining the link between obesity and cognitive decline.

Furthermore, the researchers found that these obese mice also displayed notable impairments in learning and memory tasks. 

These cognitive deficits resembled the symptoms seen in Alzheimer’s disease. This finding raises concerns about the potential impact of obesity on cognitive function in humans, as it suggests that the brain changes associated with obesity could mimic the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Digging deeper into the mechanisms at play, the researchers identified a potential culprit: inflammation. Obesity promotes chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body, which can also affect the brain.

In the obese mice, the researchers observed increased inflammation in the brain, which coincided with the development of tau pathology and cognitive decline. This suggests that inflammation may be a critical link between obesity and neurodegeneration.

These findings have significant consequences for public health. With obesity rates on the rise globally, understanding its impact on cognitive health is crucial.

Alzheimer’s disease is already an important public health concern, and if obesity-related factors can accelerate or mimic its progression, it becomes even more urgent to address the obesity epidemic.

The study also highlights the importance of a healthy lifestyle. While genetics play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, lifestyle factors like diet and physical activity can significantly influence the risk.

Maintaining a balanced diet, staying physically active and managing weight are essential for metabolic health and cognitive wellbeing.

In summary, the research from McGill University underscores the connection between obesity and neurodegeneration, suggesting that obesity-related brain changes can closely resemble those seen in Alzheimer’s disease.

This discovery emphasizes the need for strategies to combat obesity and reduce its impact on overall health, including cognitive function [4].

It serves as a reminder that a healthy lifestyle can preserve cognitive health and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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[1] https://www.who.int/activities/controlling-the-global-obesity-epidemic
[2] https://www.worldobesity.org/news/economic-impact-of-overweight-and-obesity-to-surpass-4-trillion-by-2035
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4072215/
[4] https://thenewdaily.com.au/life/2023/09/09/why-some-people-just-keep-eating/

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