Hello and welcome to PREKURE’s weekly snippet of science, where on a weekly basis we share emergent research related to extending the human healthspan.
The obesity pandemic has been raging on for a few decades now. There are many theories about why this is happening. Here at PREKURE we believe in the hormonal theory of weight gain rather than simplifying things to merely be about calories in versus calories out. While energy balance plays a role in losing and maintaining weight, diet quality and carbohydrate quantity appear to be as important, if not more so. In the past 50 years, scientists have explored the impact that overweight and obesity have on physical health.
We now know and accept that excess weight can increase our risk of several non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease and metabolic diseases (like diabetes). Scientists have shown an association between visceral adipose tissues and heart disease, type 2 diabetes, strokes, breast and colorectal cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. We have also come to understand that, due to underlying inflammation, those with overweight and obesity tend to fare worse when contracting communicable diseases (like COVID).
But what impact does obesity have on brain health? Do a few extra kilograms impact cognitive function? The answer, not at all surprisingly, is yes.
A recent prospective cohort study posed the following question: “To what extent are the amount and distribution of adipose tissue associated with cognitive scores, independent of their association with cardiovascular risk factors?”
The authors found a strong association between body fat, visceral adipose tissue, and cognitive function. They reported that total body fat and higher VAT were both significantly associated with lower cognitive test scores
They highlighted that “compared with those in the lowest quartile (25%) of adiposity, the performance of those in the highest quartile was equivalent to an additional 3 years of congnitive aging.”
While causation and mechanisms cannot be determined from this research, the authors indicate that systemic inflammation and glucose intolerance are the leading suspects. Moreover, they suggest that increased pro-inflammatory cytokines (c-reactive protein for example) may play a role in tissue damage via inflammation. Pro-inflammatory cytokines are released from adipose tissues, the more adipose tissue an individual has, the more of these proteins are released. Hypertension is also common among those with obesity, this may be a separate mechanistic pathway to cognitive decline. Reduced blood flow to the brain may result in vascular microcellular damage.
Is it all doom and gloom? Of course not, there are actionable steps that can be taken to reduce adiposity and slow cognitive aging.
- Movement. Find movement that sparks joy. Aerobic exercise increases cardiovascular strength and can help ensure that (even in the absence of weight loss) blood flow to the brain is improved. You don’t have to become an ironman triathlete overnight, start slow! Walking, swimming, a dance class at your local gym, are all great ways to get moving.
- Diet. Controlling blood glucose levels is one way you can reduce systemic inflammation. You can do this by lowering carbohydrate intake. Again, this doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing endeavour. You could begin by logging your food to understand how much carbohydrates you eat, and what the main food sources are. You could then venture into reducing the total amount and improving the quality. Let’s say you eat 250g per day and this comes predominantly from rice, pasta, and bread. You could try reducing your intake by 100g and focusing on eating whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
- Get cold. Coldwater exposure has been shown to transform white adipose tissue (the cytokine-producing fat) to brown adipose tissue (the metabolically active fat). As we nudge closer to winter in the Southern hemisphere you could consider including a cold water plunge into your morning routine. As little as 2-5 minutes can result in positive effects. Not so keen on getting outdoors? Try turning your shower to cold for the last 2-5 minutes.You can read the shortened article on Medical News Today by clicking here, or the full article by clicking here.