Being Overweight Could Impact Your Brain: Memory, Emotions and Appetite

Feb 13, 2014 07:28 AM EST | By Staff Writer

Being overweight may not just impact your health; it could also impact your brain. Scientists have discovered that excess weight is related to reduced levels of a molecule that reflects brain cell health in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that's associated with memory, learning and emotions, and likely also involved in appetite control.

In order to examine exactly how being overweight might affect the way people think, the researchers used magnetic resonance spectroscopy in order to take a closer look at the molecule in question, N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA). The scientists saw that overweight participants had lower levels of NAA in the hippocampus than normal weight volunteers.

"The relevance of the finding is that being overweight is associated with specific changes in a part of the brain that is crucial to memory formation and emotions, and probably to appetite," said Jeremy Coplan, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Whether low NAA is a consequence of being overweight, causes being overweight or a combination of both remains to be determined. Future studies are planned to focus on whether weight loss leads to an increase in NAA."

The hippocampus is known for its role in the formation and preservation of memory. Yet its role when it comes to emotional control is less well known. The fact that NAA levels in the hippocampus are associated with weight, though, indicates that it may indeed have a role in emotional control. Yet this isn't all the researchers discovered.

"We also found that high worry also produced low levels of NAA in the hippocampus, but was not associated with a high body mass index (BMI)," said Coplan in a news release.

The findings reveal that not only are NAA levels associated with being overweight, but could also shed new light on the role of the hippocampus when it comes to weight control. The research could pave the way for future discoveries that could help overweight individuals.

The findings are published in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical

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