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Study: Excess Fat May Make Us Forgetful

Study: Excess Fat May Make Us Forgetful

For a long time, scientists thought that while excess fat causes problems in many parts of the body, the mind was exempt. After all, there are no fat cells in the brain, and the protective blood-brain barrier usually prevents undesirable molecules from bothering our most precious organ. New research seems to refute this too-good-too-be-true theory, however. Several recent studies indicate that obesity leaves our brains open to invasion.

It’s no secret that humans, especially those in developed nations, have a weight problem. Our weird food and sedentary lifestyle encourage obesity and all the health risks that come along with it. Still, scientists had many unanswered questions about how excessive fat affects the human brain.

Related: Exercise Can Make You Smarter

See, when there’s a build up of fat cells in the body, they begin to emit substances that irritate the heart and muscles. Soon, these substances produce severe inflammation and other conditions that can lead to poor health. But experts always assumed that the brain’s special barrier protected it from these reactions. Turns out, they may have been wrong.

“Recent disquieting studies in animals indicate that obesity weakens that barrier, leaving it leaky and permeable. In obese animals, substances released by fat cells can ooze past the barrier and into the brain,” reports Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times.

In a series of neurological experiments conducted by researchers at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, mice were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. They soon developed a hefty layer of extra fat. When the researchers examined their animals’ blood, it “showed increasingly hefty doses of a substance called interleukin 1 that is created by fat cells and known to cause inflammation.” Unfortunately, the brain’s protective barrier showed itself weak in the face of this invasive substance.

Scientists watched as “interleukin 1 migrated to the head, [passed] the blood-brain barrier and entered areas such as the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for learning and memory.”

As if too much interleukin 1 on the brain wasn’t bad enough, the researchers also noticed that the obese mice had extremely low levels of a biochemical associated with healthy synapse function. Healthy synapses are like air traffic controllers for the brain, but unhealthy synapses allow brain messages to get jammed up and jumbled. In subsequent tests of memory and learning capacity, the fat mice performed miserably.

Depressing, right? Our love handles could be the reason we can’t remember anyone’s name, or bombed that really important presentation at work. The good news is, there’s an easy fix for excessive fat cells that are slowing down your brain function: exercise.

After 12 weeks on a daily 45-minute exercise program (they walked on a treadmill) the obese mice not only shed the extra weight, they “did much better on cognitive tests than the sedentary mice and, when the researchers examined tissue from their hippocampi, showed little evidence of inflammation and robust levels of the chemical marker of synaptic health. The results suggested that, as the scientists write in the study,’treadmill training normalized hippocampal function,’ even in animals born to be fat and that remained heavy.”

Related: What Workout Is Best For Your Personality Type?

Read more: Fitness, Health, Mental Wellness, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Beth Buczynski

Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog or check out her blog.

88 comments

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9:51AM PDT on Mar 16, 2014

Out of sight, out of mind.

You could forget your shoes.

2:52AM PDT on Mar 15, 2014

Thanks for sharing :)

4:43PM PDT on Mar 13, 2014

Thanks

1:16PM PDT on Mar 13, 2014

Interesting. Thanks.

8:11AM PDT on Mar 12, 2014

yay, Debra G, that was hilarious! i've been chubby, my entire life and i feel i have a better than average memory. if you want to compare stressed out, overweight people and those that are thin with no stress, go ahead. leave the rest of us out of it.

1:51PM PDT on Mar 9, 2014

[continued...]
To quote Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment ‘If you are not a smoker, burning wood is probably the greatest threat to your health as anything that you do. But it is also a threat to your neighbors' health, as inappropriate as blowing cigarette smoke in the face of the passenger in the seat next to you. More than likely your neighbors are less than enthusiastic about sacrificing their health for your freedom to burn wood. A civilized society would suggest they shouldn't have to - http://www.standard.net/stories/2013/10/15/small-minority-who-burn-wood-are-responsible-much-our-pollution

People who care about their health should join with UPAH in lobbying for a clean up of this major source of health-hazardous pollution that affects our brains, as well as our hearts and lungs.

1:49PM PDT on Mar 9, 2014

Air pollution is also linked to inflammation and cognitive decline in the brain:
"Several studies have found that these particles - at least some of them - can actually get into the brain where they can cause inflammation and might even trigger some of those microscopic changes that are typical of Alzheimer's Disease." http://www.voanews.com/content/air-pollution-linked-to-cognitive-decline-139526058/171728.html

This suggests that anyone who is overweight is even more susceptible to the cognitive decline as well as the heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease that is linked to fine particle air pollution.

Now that we have cleaned up vehicle pollution, the major source of air pollution is domestic wood heating. Current wood heater models emit more pollution per year than up to 1,000 passenger cars. We need a moratorium on the installation of new wood heaters until new standards are developed making them as clean as automobiles, and a gradual phasing out of all the existing sub-standard ones.

To quote Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment ‘If you are not a smoker, burning wood is probably the greatest threat to your health as anything that you do. But it is also a threat to your neighbors' health, as inappropriate as blowing cigarette smoke in the face of the passenger in the seat next to you. More than likely your neighbors are less than enthusiastic about sacrificing their health for your freedom to burn wood. A civilize

1:26PM PDT on Mar 9, 2014

Well that explains my past poor dating choices ;O)

12:22PM PDT on Mar 9, 2014

I'm going right out and buying a treadmill! Thanks!!!

12:10PM PDT on Mar 9, 2014

Anything that goes into our bodies affects our brains. That was a no brain-er.

WE had quite a few 'playful' comment-ors today.

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