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Molecular Brain Changes Found In Overweight Individuals

Update Date: Feb 12, 2014 02:05 PM EST

Having too much body fat has been linked to brain changes that affect memory, emotions and appetite, according to a new study.

New research reveals that being overweight is associated with lower levels of a molecule molecule N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), which reflects brain cell health, in the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped organ located deep in the brain involved in memory, learning, emotions and appetite control.

Brain scans revealed lower levels of NAA in the hippocampus of overweight participants compared to those of normal-weight participants. Researchers said the findings held true even after accounting for age, sex and psychiatric diagnoses.

"The relevance of the finding is that being overweight is associated with specific changes in a part of the brain that is crucial to memory formation and emotions, and probably to appetite," lead researcher Jeremy D. Coplan, MD, professor of psychiatry at SUNY Downstate, said in a news release.

Researchers said the latest study is the first to link NAA to body weight.

"We also found that high worry also produced low levels of NAA in the hippocampus, but was not associated with a high body mass index (BMI)," added Coplan.

"Whether low NAA is a consequence of being overweight, causes being overweight, or a combination of both remains to be determined," Coplan concluded. "Future studies are planned to focus on whether weight loss leads to an increase in NAA."

The findings are published in the journal Neuroimage: Clinical.

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