A new study suggests that weight loss surgery for severely obese women may have some benefits for the brain. The study is published in the Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Researchers at the University of Sao Paolo, in Brazil, studied 33 women with an average age of 40 – 17 of whom were severely obese, and 16 who were a healthy weight. At the beginning of the study, the researchers used PET scans to measure the women’s brain activity, and carried out a series of cognitive tests to assess their memory and thinking skills. The obese group underwent weight loss surgery (known as bariatric surgery), and then had the same tests repeated 24 weeks after the surgery.
Both groups had similar cognitive scores at the start of the study. The results showed in the obese group, people tended to have better performance on one cognitive test after surgery compared to before the operation. However the results of other cognitive tests were no different before and after surgery.
The researchers also found that, before surgery, women who were obese had higher rates of brain activity in some brain regions than those who were a healthy weight. After surgery, however, their brain activity had reduced, and was similar to that seen earlier in women who were not obese. The researchers suggest that for people who are obese, the brain may need to work harder to perform as well as those who are a healthy weight.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“Although obesity has been linked to an increased risk of dementia, this very small study doesn’t tell us whether weight loss surgery could prevent the condition. This research involved people in their 40s and did not look at dementia, and we don’t know whether the changes in brain activity seen in this study would affect a person’s risk of developing the condition. The people included in this research were severely obese, so it’s hard to know how these results might relate to people whose obesity does not warrant this type of surgery.
“Continued investment in research is important if we are to fully understand the mechanisms underlying the links between obesity and increased dementia risk. A better understanding of how factors such as obesity may affect our risk of dementia could give us important clues for preventing the condition. In the meantime, research shows we can lower our risk of dementia by eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure and weight in check.”