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Weight Loss Surgery can Improve Brain Function

Update Date: Aug 28, 2014 11:26 AM EDT

Weight loss is not only good for physical health, it is also beneficial for mental health, a new study reported. Researchers from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil discovered that obese patients' cognitive functions improved after undergoing weight-loss surgery.

"We have two very serious public health burdens-Alzheimer's disease and obesity-and if they interact so that one accentuates the other, then this is obviously a significant crisis," said Dr. Suzana Petanceska, a program director in the NIA's (National Institute on Aging) Division of Neuroscience according to an NIH (National Institutes of Health) statement. "This is very important to know because if metabolic abnormalities associated with obesity do indeed harm the brain, and we are able to understand how that happens, there is great potential for intervention."

In this study, the research team recruited 17 obese women who underwent bariatric surgery. Obesity has been linked to increasing one's risk of Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, by 35 percent in comparison to people of normal weight. The researchers tested the patients' brain function before and after their surgery.

Prior to undergoing weight loss surgery, the patients' brains metabolized sugar at an increased rate in comparison to women with normal weight. After the surgery, however, the obese women's brains all showed improvement, particularly in the regions of the brain responsible for executive function, which involves planning and organizing.

"In particular, obesity led to altered activity in a part of the brain linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease - the posterior cingulate gyrus. Since bariatric surgery reversed this activity, we suspect the procedure may contribute to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia," one of the study's authors, Cintia Cercato, MD, PhD, of the University of São Paolo in São Paolo, Brazil, said according to a news release.

"The more we understand about [body fat], the clearer it becomes that belly fat is its own disease-generating organism," said Dr. Lenore Launer, chief of NIA's Neuroepidemiology Section of the Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography, and Biometry.

The study, "Changes in Neuropsychological Tests and Brain Metabolism After Bariatric Surgery," was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

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