Inflammation triggered by obesity may cause brain damage

A study scheduled to be presented next week has found evidence of brain damage linked to obesity in teenagers. The damage impacts the parts of the brain responsible for cognitive functions, as well as emotions and appetite, and may be caused by the inflammation that results from obesity. The damage was identified using MRIs of both healthy and obese teenagers ages 12 through 16.

Chronic inflammation can cause numerous health issues, including potentially triggering the development of cancer and dementia. Obesity is one condition that causes inflammation, the consequences of which can be observed in the brain. According to the new study to be presented at RSNA, the inflammation from obesity may lead to brain damage starting at ages as young as 12.

The damage was identified in the orbitofrontal gyrus and corpus callosum, areas of the brain that have to do with the 'reward circuit,' emotional control, and appetite. The researchers didn't find any damage outside of these regions. The issue was linked to various inflammatory markers and the hormone leptin, which is produced by fat cells.

Individuals who are obese can potentially develop a condition called leptin resistance, which means their brain no longer responds to leptin. The lack of response results in the desire to continue eating, increasing body fat levels and, therefore, leptin levels. The fat cells produce more leptin as resistance develops, resulting in a circular effect that can be difficult to overcome.

Insulin resistance may likewise have a damaging effect on the brain's white matter, according to the study. This hormone works to keep blood sugar levels in check, but may steadily rise as one gains weight, eventually leading to resistance and the development of type-2 diabetes. The study indicates that leptin and insulin resistance isn't the only contributing factors to the observed damage, but additional research is necessary.