Obesity has a terrifying effect on brain health and function, study warns

Being overweight or obese has a noticeable, alarming impact on brain health that impacts its function and paves the way for mental health issues and dementia, a new study warns. The research was based on brain scans from more than 17,000 people; the results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. Key to the disruption is a change in blood flow and the parts of the brain impacted by this change.

Using a total of more than 35,000 brain scans from the aforementioned 17,000 people, researchers were able to generate 3D renders of blood flow in the participants' brain, splitting the participants up into three different categories: those who had a normal BMI, those who had an overweight BMI, and those who had an obese BMI (body mass index).

Among other things, the blood flow in one's brain is the biggest indicator of whether that person will go on to develop Alzheimer's disease, a particular type of dementia that results in memory loss, sensory processing issues, and mood changes, among other things. As well, blood flow has been linked to various other conditions ranging from depression all the way through to schizophrenia.

The new study found that blood flow to most regions of the brain decreases as one's BMI increases, particularly impacting brain regions associated with the eventual development of Alzheimer's disease. The findings indicate that obesity may be a major risk factor for dementia and may increase one's risk of developing or worsening various mental health and cognitive issues.

All is not without hope, however, as lifestyle and dietary modifications that lead to weight loss may help mitigate the impact of the change in blood flow. Amen Clinics founder and study lead author Daniel G. Amen, MD, said:

This study shows that being overweight or obese seriously impacts brain activity and increases the risk for Alzheimer's disease as well as many other psychiatric and cognitive conditions ... One of the most important lessons we have learned through 30 years of performing functional brain imaging studies is that brains can be improved when you put them in a healing environment by adopting brain-healthy habits, such as a healthy calorie-smart diet and regular exercise.