Exploring the link between Brain Health and Obesity. My TOP 5 Tips for Improving Brain Health.
Our brain is a very unique organ. It is the command center of our body. It has so called ‘simple’ functions such as moving our muscles and giving us sensation however it has ‘higher’ and more complex functions such as memory, cognition, intuition, judgement and imagination.
But it’s mostly made of fat. The human brain is nearly 60% fat by total weight and that big, powerful brain needs to be provided with certain types of fats (both saturated and unsaturated) throughout life to provide a balance of structural integrity and fluidity to its cells. However if we provide it too much of the wrong type of fats (the ones that create inflammation…keep reading) it starts to have an opposite effect.
Is your BMI getting in your ‘Head”?
The obesity epidemic is not only bad for our waistlines, but it could have a significant effect on our minds, as well. “Obesity not only impacts how you look … or physical health, it also impacts your brain,” says Ranjana Mehta, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health in College Station, Texas. The researcher, who’s received National Institute on Aging funding to study obesity’s effects on brain function in seniors, notes obesity can change the structure of the brain and cause atrophy.
What is the Brain – Body Crosstalk all about?
A Cambridge researcher Lucy Cheke, in a study that she did on overweight and obese subjects, getting them to do a virtual brain exercise “Treasure Hunt” found a clear relationship between their Body Mass Index – a measure of your weight relative to your height – and apparent memory deficits. The results showed that the higher a participant’s BMI, the worse they performed on the Treasure Hunt task.
In doing so, Cheke has contributed to a small but growing body of evidence showing that obesity is linked to brain shrinkage and memory deficits. This research suggests that obesity may contribute to the development of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
Surprisingly, it also seems to show that the relationship between obesity and memory is a two-way street: being overweight or obese not only impacts on memory function, but may also affect future eating behavior by altering our recollections of previous eating experiences.
More recently, a brain scanning study including more than 500 participants confirmed that being overweight or obese is associated with a greater degree of age-related brain degeneration. These effects were biggest in middle-aged people, in whom the obesity-related changes corresponded to an estimated increase in ‘brain age’ of 10 years.
Obesity is a complex condition with many contributing factors, however; so exactly how it might affect brain structure and function is still unclear.
“Body fat is the defining feature of obesity, but you’ve also got things like insulin resistance, hypertension, and high blood pressure,” says Cheke. “These can go hand in hand with behavioural factors [such as overeating and lack of exercise] and they can all potentially cause changes in the brain.”
“For example, insulin is an important neurotransmitter and there’s a lot of evidence that diabetes is associated with changes in learning and memory,” she adds, “but there’s also evidence that high body fat on its own leads to inflammation in the brain, which can also cause problems.”
Is Inflammation the real issue?
Inflammation is another potential culprit. Psychologists from the University of Arizona examined data from more than 20,000 participants in the English Longitudinal Ageing Study, in which measures of memory, BMI, and blood plasma levels of an inflammatory marker called C-reactive protein were collected every 2 years between 1998 and 2013.
They found that greater body mass was associated with a decline in memory function, and also with higher levels of the inflammatory protein. Although these links are indirect, the results suggest that brain inflammation is one plausible mechanism by which differences in body mass might influence cognitive function in otherwise healthy, aging adults.
Belly fat, Inflammation and Brain Fog
Body fat is a marvelous organ. It helps regulate our metabolism. In the context of chronic conditions, though, as seen above, body fat is a powerful source of inflammatory chemicals. Fat cells produce chemical signals that cause inflammation.
Inflammation is the cornerstone of all our chronic degenerative conditions: diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, coronary artery disease, and so many more. And, chronic inflammation is a major contributor to many degenerative diseases. It has been linked to insulin resistance, heart disease, and cancer. Inflammation causes damage to our cells and tissues and contributes to the aging process.
Reducing inflammation is essential for good health.
My Top 5 Tips to Improve Brain Function
The first thing I tell my patients is to keep exercising. Exercise has many known benefits, and it appears that regular physical activity benefits the brain. Multiple research studies show that people who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function and have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Get plenty of sleep.
Sleep plays an important role in your brain health. There are some theories that sleep helps clear abnormal proteins in your brain and consolidates memories, which boosts your overall memory and brain health.
It is important that you try to get seven to eight consecutive hours of sleep per night, not fragmented sleep of two- or three-hour increments. Consecutive sleep gives your brain the time to consolidate and store your memories effectively. Sleep apnea is harmful to your brain’s health and may be the reason why you may struggle to get consecutive hours of sleep. Talk with your health care provider if you or a family member suspects you have sleep apnea.
Stay mentally active.
Your brain is similar to a muscle — you need to use it or you lose it. There are many things that you can do to keep your brain in shape, such as doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, reading, playing cards or putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Consider it cross-training your brain. So incorporate different activities to increase the effectiveness.
Plants Plants Plants
Your diet plays a large role in your brain health. I recommend my patients consider following a wholesome Plant based diet, which emphasizes fruits,berries,vegetables,nuts,seeds,grains,legumes and beans.Fish,dairy and chicken are optional ,but I recommend limiting intake of these to as little as possible.Healthy fats, such as olive oil,flaxseed oil and avocado can be had generously. These are the best sources of reducing inflammation in your diet and providing the polyphenols that greatly boost brain function.
Remain socially involved.
Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to connect with loved ones, friends and others, especially if you live alone. There is research that links lonliness to brain atrophy, so remaining socially active may have the opposite effect and strengthen the health of your brain.
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About Dr Arun:
Dr Arun Dhir is a Melbourne based GastroIntestinal andBariatric Surgeon. He has a b usy private practice that has a strong focus in the area of obesity management and gut health. Dr Arun’s current research is on the changes in gut microbiome after obesity surgery and on reflux disease. He has also written several books and has published several articles in scientific journals. Arun’s published works include Happy Gut Healthy Weight (Balboa Press 2018), “Creating a New You – Health Journal” (Metagenics 2019), and Your Mess Has a Message (2021).
Dr Arun is also a Yoga and Meditation teacher that allows him to better understand and assist his clients with the mind-body-gut connection. He regularly writes and speaks about gut health, gut microbiome, obesity, gastrointestinal surgery and healing.
Dr Arun’s life vision is to bridge the art of Eastern healing and the science of Western medicine through education and research.
Arun loves cycling, hiking and playing drums. He also serves in the Royal Australian Army as a General Surgeon.
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