Is my obesity putting my mental health at increased risk?

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The finding of recent research is that it does. According to science, if you are over eating, then you are putting your mental health at risk. Especially when it comes to junk foods that are high in saturated fats. So for those who take great pleasure in cheeses, fast-food restaurants, and feel enticed to eat when you’re not even hungry, there is now more at risk than we once knew.

In the United States and in western societies, including the UK, most of us are following what has become known as the ‘western diet’. This diet is high in saturated fats that are commonly found in dairy products and red meats. We know that over eating these foods will, over time, lead to becoming overweight and obesity, but what impact does this diet have on mental health?

Some research suggests that middle-aged adults who over overweight and obese, are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other types of cognitive dementias. There are even studies to show that children from the age of seven years old show signs of memory impairments.

It’s worth mentioning that most studies in this area are based on rats and mice. In these studies the labs involved have infused the foods that are fed to the animals with dye. In one particular study, conducted by the Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, one group of rats were fed with a ‘western diet’ and another group with a healthier diet. The findings were that the rats fed with the ‘western diet’ were shown to have a weakened ‘blood-brain barrier’ (BBB).

The BBB is important because it protects the brain from harmful substances that might otherwise pass into the brain. In the overweight rats fed with the western diet, the dye was found to accumulate around an area of the brain called the hippocampus. This area of the brain is important in terms of learning and memory functions. These rats suffered from an inflamed hippocampus, which changed its electrochemical activity. Thus, the rats were unable to process certain types of information, that their thinner friends could.

Is our ability to resist eating high-fat and sugary foods affected?

There is a case to show that a deficit to use certain types of information processed by the hippocampus, can lead a viscous cycle. The rats that were fed a ‘western diet’ appeared to have difficulty telling whether they were full, or had drank enough. This led them to eat and drink more, which damaged their hippocampus further, which meant they felt the need to eat more and drink more! 

This is an area where more research is needed but there is enough evidence to believe that in addition to the established health benefits of weight loss surgery, such as reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, there may also be a benefit in terms of long term mental well-being.

Picture of Martyn Berrett

Martyn Berrett

Martyn is the former MD of Healthier Weight. Throughout his tenure he observed many bariatric procedures and took part in several research projects so has a unique perspective on all things weight loss.

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