This is Your Brain On............. Fat?

Let me see if I have got this right……

Obesity is a leading risk factor for heart disease and heart disease can kill you? Check.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for hypertension and hypertension can cause a stroke that can kill you? Check.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for type II diabetes and type II diabetes, untreated, can lead to retinopathy (blindness), neuropathy (nerve damage that can lead to amputations), nephropathy (kidney disease), heart disease and stroke and most of those things can kill you? Check.

Obesity causes severe brain degeneration and severe brain degeneration can…. WAIT, hold up just one second, severe WHAT? Being obese can actually shrink my brain? Oh, this I gotta hear!

Apparently, a new study concludes that obese individuals, indentified as those with a Body Mass Index (BMI calculator) greater than 30, have 8% less brain tissue and their brain looks 16 years older than the brain of someone who is not obese. The study goes on to say that individuals who are overweight (BMI>25) have 4% less brain tissue and their brain is 8 years older comparatively. Brain scans of 94 70-year olds produced this study’s results.

This brain degeneration leaves the individual with an increased risk for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. In addition, the areas that experience the tissue degeneration in obese individuals are responsible for planning, memory, attention, movement and executive functions. In overweight individuals the affected areas are responsible for sensory functions. The senior author of the study, Paul Thompson, says if you can eat healthy and manage your weight, you can significantly reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s.

When you consider the growing list of health risks associated with being obese or overweight and realize that the World Health Organization reports 300 million people worldwide are obese and another 1 BILLION are overweight, it is easy to see that we have a problem of pandemic proportions. Poor eating habits is the biggest culprit causing obesity. The good news is that this is something that could be changed. The question is how.

Do you remember those public service announcements where they put the egg in the frying pan and that very deep, very serious voice-over voice said, “this is your brain on drugs?” Is the next step a PSA with the announcement, “this is your brain on……fat?”

In the 6th grade, my class attended a Just Say No presentation (yep, the good ole Reagan Era). The speaker told a story about an 18 year old drafted into the NBA who tried cocaine for the 1st time at a party, died of an overdose and never saw the fruits of a career playing basketball. This story played a pivotal role in my choices for years to come. Eventually we have to confront our food and drink choices just as we approach our decisions not to use other harmful substances…… eventually we have to see the fit vs. fat debate as a health debate NOT a vanity debate. Do we need a national campaign? Do we need a First Lady to come along and declare a War on Fat? This may not be too far off when you read 5 Bucks for a Can of Coke. Is the government’s answer to tax the foods that are “bad” for us? Will that be enough of a deterrent (tobacco tax has increased exponentially over the last decade with very little impact on the number of people smoking)? At what point do we make good decisions because they are good for our health?

This is a very serious problem and it is also a very sensitive one. I am a type II diabetic who spent the majority of my 20’s with a BMI of 40. I feel that I have a responsibility to discuss the obesity epidemic and its bedfellows: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and now, brain degeneration. My perspective on this topic is from a type 2 diabetic, who has spent 1/3 of her life obese, who smoked for 10 years and spent the majority of those same 10 years completely sedentary with a total cholesterol count of 282. I have been a fat girl and once a fat girl, always a fat girl…… no matter what the scale says (if you have been there, you know exactly what I am talking about…… that’s a topic for another post). My approach to the obesity epidemic is devoid of judgment or discrimination…… I have been there. However, no one can fight this battle for us, we, each one of us, one by one, has to decide that the health risks are just not worth it.

What do you think the answer is? What needs to be created or put into place that will welp reverse this deadly trend?

The Dishing Diabetic

Well, there is a question of correlation not equaling causation. People who are overweight might have 8% less brain tissue than people who aren’t overweight. However, perhaps having less brain tissue causes one to gain weight; maybe being “less intelligent” (I think that’s what this study is trying to say) makes you gain weight. Over maybe it’s something else that contributes to both. I also saw a study that said low blood sugars and hypoglycemia are one of the leading causes of obesity (and my doctor always tells me this), and perhaps low blood sugars cause damage to your brain (perhaps? hah, they definitely do).

Anyway, my point is, one study does not necessarily prove anything. There could have been other issues with the study; they only scanned 90 people. Plus, there are a lot of healthy people with BMIs of 26 or 27, so I feel like you can’t just say being out of shape or eating too much or whatever is going to make you lose your brain.

Still I now feel really, really guilty about the weight I can’t lose.