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The Effects of Obesity on the Brain

Modern science has definitively established significant comorbidities associated with morbid obesity. One of the less obvious and lest studied associations is the effect of obesity on the brain. However, we do know that not even the brain can escape the potentially significant side effects associated with excess weight.

The effects of obesity on the brain can range from mild, reversible problems to severe, permanent ones. For example, the side effects associated with obesity-induced sleep apnea may include tiredness and reduced mental acuity because of poor sleep. This can significantly inhibit a patient’s mental alertness which can affect their work and social life. Since many patient only address their sleep apnea years after it first manifests, the effects are often cumulative and dramatic.

Obesity can cause significant psychological disorders such as major depression. Many patients that suffer from obesity feel out of place in social circles and, unfortunately, there still exists significant stigma associated with excess weight and obesity despite its prevalence in modern-day society. These stigmas can often lead those with a weight problem to withdraw from social and work related activities. Doing so can deepen the cycle of depression, often leading to additional weight gain and a vicious cycle.

Obesity and excess weight can cause other psychological and physical conditions including eating disorders such as binge eating and food addiction. These disorders represent very real psychological problems that often require counseling and therapy even after a patient has lost weight through diet and exercise or bariatric surgery.

Obesity has also been shown to affect memory. This may be due to inflammation caused by hormonal changes due to excess weight or related elevated blood sugar levels.

Lastly, and somewhat counterintuitively, there is emerging evidence that obesity and excess weight may be protective factors to dementia and other memory disorders, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease. These degenerative disorders are becoming more commonplace in modern society, but seemingly not due to obesity.

As with any obesity related disease, Weight loss can have a dramatic and positive effect on brain function as well as psychological health. Those seeking to lose a significant amount of weight can research the options for surgical or nonsurgical weight loss, comparing the benefits and risks of each, to determine what path is right for them.

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