Type 2 Diabetes – The Effect of Obesity on the Brain

Both obesity and Type 2 diabetes are linked to brain shrinkage and poor brain function in older people. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and several other research centers in Pittsburgh, United States, decided to compare the brain of a group of young people. Some of the participants had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, others were obese, and the balance were in the average weight range in good health.

Their study, reported on in the International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience in July 2015, included 15 individuals between 12 and 21 years of age…

  • 5 had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes,
  • 5 were obese with normal blood sugar levels and no sign of Type 2 diabetes, and
  • 5 were of normal weight and in good synapse xt health.

The brain of each participant was examined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)…

  • the normal-weight individuals had more volume in the part of the brain called the caudate nucleus, than did the other two groups.
  • another part of the brain, known as the thalamus, was greater in size in the normal weight and obese groups than in the Type 2 diabetes group.
  • another difference was seen in how ions, or charged particles, travel throughout the white matter, where some thinking takes place.

The caudate nucleus is used for choosing actions to reach certain goals, learning which actions are successful, and modifying the actions when needed. The thalamus has to do with sensations of touch, sight and hearing, and helps to regulate the sleep and wakefulness cycle. Measurements of ingoing and outgoing ions are thought to have to do with brain cell size and how well brain cells are protected.

With only fifteen participants, the work is a pilot study, designed to learn what might be found in larger studies. It has been strongly suggested more research be carried out along this important line of investigation.

In related work, the journal Neuroimage, published in August 2015 reports on work conducted on waist and brain sizes. The study performed at the University of Greifswald and various research institutions in both Germany and the United States, compared waist size and gray matter in the brain of each of 2344 individuals. Parts of the brain involved in…

  • thinking,
  • processing rewards, and
  • turning off appetite

were smaller in individuals with a high waist circumference.

As both these studies were completed at the same time, researchers indicate care needs to be taken in interpreting the results. It is not possible to conclude whether belly fat could be affecting the brain or whether the brain could be affecting belly fat. More research will be needed to solve this fascinating question.

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