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How Your Weight Can Affect Your Brain

Posted 1132 Days Ago by Lesley Hibberd Dip. Cog. Hyp. – Cognitive Hypnotherapist

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Eat your way to better mental health.

A finding published recently in the journal Neurobiology of Aging is causing quite a stir in the scientific community and its ramifications could have far reaching consequences for the health of our aging nation.

A team from Cambridge University carried out a study into the effects being overweight could play on the brain. They took a test group of 473 people aged between 20 and 87 and split these people in ‘lean’ and ‘overweight’ groups according to their BMI.

The team then examined the amount of white matter of all the studies participants.  Think of white matter as the super fast broadband of the brain, it connects all the parts of the brain together and allows effective communication and information to be passed in nanoseconds, without it we would not be able to perform most of our day-to-day functions. The study found a decrease in the amount of white matter in the overweight group and in fact the brains of the overweight people looked 10 years older than their leaner counterparts. So in other words the brain of an overweight 50 year old was the same as the brain of lean 60 year old. However this difference was only evident in the middle aged (50) + groups. The good news is that even with the decline in white matter there was no significant difference in the cognitive abilities of the overweight group and the lean group.

These findings lead a member of the research team, Paul Fletcher, to conclude, "We're living in an ageing population, with increasing levels of obesity, so it's essential that we establish how these two factors might interact, since the consequences for health are potentially serious. The fact that we only saw these differences from middle-age onwards raises the possibility that we may be particularly vulnerable at this age. It will also be important to find out whether these changes could be reversible with weight loss, which may well be the case."

The research was not able to conclude why overweight people should exhibit a greater decline in white matter or indeed whether it was obesity which caused the changes in the brain or if it was changes in the brain which lead to obesity.

There will need to be a lot more research into these findings but there is no doubt that there is growing evidence of the effects our diet, weight and exercise has on the brain, especially as we grow older.

The Mediterranean diet is well documented as being one of the healthiest diets on the planet. It is based around lots of vegetables, especially of the green leafy variety, berries, nuts, seeds, whole grains (ditch the white stuff) beans, fish, poultry and olive oil. What is also interesting, as reported in an article in the Psyblog, is that there are 18 studies which show that following a Mediterranean diet is linked to a slowing down in the rate of decline of cognitive function so leading to improved memory.  Mr Roy Hardman, the study’s first author, said:  “I would therefore recommend people to try to adhere or switch to a MedDiet, even at an older age”.

Eating a well balanced healthy diet and taking part in regular exercise has long been known to improve our physical health but now it would appear it is just as important for our mental health as well and the younger we start the  better. However it is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle.


References: BBC News, ScienceAlert, Psyblog, Biomedcentral


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