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An unhealthy diet and obesity damage the brain
Unhealthy eating makes you fat and stupid. Obesity is often associated with brain damage, which in turn can affect eating behavior. Two recent American studies have come to the conclusion that an unhealthy diet promotes obesity, which in turn causes damage to the brain that causes eating behavior to continue to get out of control.
Obesity and unhealthy eating have been directly linked for a long time. However, American scientists have now come to the conclusion in two independent studies that improper nutrition, combined with being overweight, can shrink entire brain regions, which further causes eating disorders. Antonio Convit from the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatry Research in New York and colleagues report in the current issue of the specialist magazine "Brain" that they found a significant reduction in certain reward and appetite centers in the brain and considerable structural damage in the context of their study in overweight people. Terry Davidson of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Illinois, and his PhD student Scott Kanoski, published in the journal Physiology and Behavior, concluded that brain damage and the subsequent vicious cycle are triggered by improper nutrition.
Being overweight affects reward and appetite areas of the brain
As part of their study, Antonio Convit and his colleagues from the Nathan Kline Institute examined the brains of 44 overweight and 19 normal-weight healthy people over the age of 50 using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers not only took a closer look at the volume of different brain regions, but also their water content, because a high water content is a sign of damage to nerve tissue. The scientists also determined the blood values of the protein fibrinogen, which serves as a marker for inflammatory processes in the nervous system. As part of their study, it emerged that certain areas of reward and appetite in the brain are significantly reduced in overweight people, the researchers report.
Inflammatory processes: increased fibrinogen values in overweight people
In addition, significantly higher fibrinogen values were found in overweight people than in normal people. Although it was already known from previous studies that obesity can promote inflammatory processes in the nervous system, their study suggests that the inflammatory diet shrinks entire brain areas, the US researchers report. The higher the measured fibrinogen values in the blood, the smaller the brain areas examined, according to the scientists. According to the experts, the most significant changes were seen in the MRI images in the area of the prefrontal cortex and in the so-called almond kernel. Both regions serve to control the emotional assessment of situations and are related to the reward system but also to the sense of taste. The prefrontal cortex (also orbitofrontal cortex, OFC) was significantly reduced in the overweight and the almond kernel had a significantly higher water content, the US scientists report.
Diet and obesity affect self-control
Other American scientists, such as Paul Thompson from the University of California at Los Angeles, who in previous studies have also shown shrinking brain regions in overweight people, warn of the current results of the study that "diet and obesity (...) may have an overall long-term effect on self-control". OFC and Mandelkern are "famous regions in addiction research. They regulate not only appetite and cravings, but also decision-making processes that prevent someone from doing dangerous things, for example," added Thompson in front of a vicious circle that can develop through the damage in the brain's reward center.
Obesity initiates a vicious cycle in the brain
Unhealthy eating leads to obesity, which in turn leads to the formation of inflammatory messengers, which in the brain shrink the areas that regulate cravings, explains Prof. Agnes Flöel, neurologist at the Berlin Charité, the processes underlying the vicious cycle in the brain. Then, similar to a drug addict, more and more stimuli in the form of tasty food would then have to arrive in order to still be satisfied with the food intake despite a decline in neuronal sensitivity. Even if, according to the US scientist led by Antonio Convit, it is not yet clear whether the weight gain triggers inflammatory processes and damage to the brain or vice versa, the results show “but that overweight, even if the brain damage came first, is like oil can act on the flames. ”Because, according to the expert,“ the inflammatory processes associated with obesity that damage the brain (…) yes continue acutely. ”It is important to note that the mass of neurons massively decreases in obesity, especially in the reward system Convit explains the reason why appetite and cravings can no longer be regulated in an orderly manner simply because the neuronal connections are too few, in the current edition of the specialist magazine "Brain".
Fat and sugar-rich foods damage the brain
In the context of the second American study conducted by Terry Davidson, the expert and a doctoral student evaluated several studies that show that foods high in sugar and saturated fatty acids - often referred to as typical Western foods - cause cognitive impairments. The unhealthy diet in animal experiments in mice directly led to inflammation in the brain. According to Davidson, the damage first occurred on the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory, memory, learning and spatial orientation. The expert emphasized that the impairment of mental performance due to the unhealthy diet can be seen before the affected people get fat. In addition, animal experiments suggested that improper nutrition can change the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and thus further impair brain structure, Davidson said. According to the expert, it is easy to explain that the thinking disorders and brain damage in the study first occurred in the hippocampus. Because the important memory center is particularly well connected to the circulation and harmful substances in the blood can have an increased effect here.
Unhealthy eating leads to damage to the hippocampus
According to Terry Davidson, the vicious circle described above could not begin in the OCT or the almond kernel, as described by Antonio Convit, but immediately after eating unhealthy food through damage to the hippocampus. Because these are possibly a false regulation of memory, in which the selective suppression of memories of tempting food, which normally helps to regulate appetite, no longer works properly. "I can better resist a crème brûlée if an intact hippocampus weakens the memory of its delicious taste," emphasized Davidson. Overall, the changes in thinking and eating habits will probably remain subtle for many years, according to the expert, but there may be significant impairments in advanced age. There are increasing signs that “dementia diseases are also favored by diet, obesity and the associated inflammation and vascular problems,” emphasized Thompson. On the other hand, it is encouraging that, at least in the case of diabetics, there are indications that a change in diet or good medical treatment can also improve cognitive abilities, added Antonio Convit.
Breakdown of nerve connections instead of destroying nerve tissue
In view of the results of the study, Prof. Flöel pointed out that magnetic resonance tomography has only limited meaningfulness, because "one cannot (...) say with this examination what exactly is damaged in the brain." The researchers can only do the volume and the Determine the density of a certain region of the brain, "We don't know what happens with a lower volume or density," explained Prof. Flöel. However, there is reason to assume that "probably (...) no nerves are broken down, but the synaptic connections between the neurons (...) are poorly developed", emphasized Flöel. According to the expert, this is a far more pleasant idea than a permanent destruction of the nerve tissue, because synaptic connections can also be re-formed, as the improvement in the cognitive abilities of diabetes patients shows after a change in diet.
Obesity and obesity on the rise worldwide
The fact that research in the field of overweight and obesity (obesity) has been significantly intensified in recent years is not least due to the fact that more and more people in the modern industrialized nations suffer from the symptoms.
For example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warned at the end of last year that obesity was becoming a widespread disease and children in particular in the OECD member states were on average much too fat. If the trend of the past few years continues, two out of three people will be overweight in ten years, the experts from the OECD emphasized. Already today, around half of the population in the OECD member states suffer from obesity. According to the OECD, around 60 percent of men and 45 percent of women in Germany are too fat. A total of 16 percent of the population in this country should be described as obese (body mass index higher than 30). According to the OECD, the negative effects on society as a whole should not be underestimated, since “obese people (…) die (about eight to ten years earlier than people of normal weight) and they (…) are more likely to suffer from diseases such as diabetes and heart -Circulatory diseases and cancer "develop. In addition, obesity has become one of the leading causes of death and disability with the increased prevalence over the past 20 years in the industrialized nations. According to the OECD, obesity is responsible for around 2.6 million deaths worldwide and at least 2.3 percent of health costs worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the US health authorities are already talking about an obesity epidemic that can be dealt with in a similar way to fatal infectious diseases. (fp)
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