In the new study, researchers examined four groups: normal-weight individuals without diabetes; normal-weight individuals with Type 2 diabetes; overweight individuals without diabetes; and overweight individuals with Type 2 diabetes. The findings showed that the brain’s overall structure and ability to perform vital cognitive functions was drastically reduced in people who fall above what would be considered a normal BMI (body mass index).
This implies that obesity, and/or its associated effects on the body, can have a profound impact not just on the way that you physically perform, but on the way your thought processes develop and inform the choices you make. What’s more, the researchers found that the group that had both excess weight and Type 2 diabetes showed the most evidence of cognitive impairment and degeneration.
Although it’s been known for some time that obesity is correlated with the increasing impairment of metabolic function and brain inflammation, the main thrust of this study appears to be the fact that there exists a continuum of these problems, of which diabetic obesity falls on the most severe end.
So, what physically causes these cognitive impairments that come along with obesity and diabetes? For starters, researchers used MRIs to actually look at the physical structure of the participants’ brain tissue and construction. Affected individuals saw differences from their non-obese and diabetes-free counterparts in two main areas: cerebral cortex thickness, and white matter connectivity. Thickness and connectivity are relatively easy to measure using MRIs, making these two variables a good focus for this particular study.
You’ve probably heard of the brain’s “gray matter” before — that’s where neuron cell bodies are stored, but the white matter (the portion that saw less connectivity in obese individuals) is where the bundles of nerves originate the signals sent along the spine. Physical tasks affected by white matter include motor skills, memory recall, and executive function. Interestingly, these are all areas that individuals with Type 2 diabetes have been observed to be deficient in prior studies.
This study is a capstone of sorts on the evolving idea that the divide between the mental and physical may not be as much of a bright-lined delineation as previously assumed in the past. For example, people with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia can be seen to have thinning or other changes to the physical structure of their brains as well. The mind influences the body, and the body influences the mind. A healthy brain will contribute to a healthy body, and a healthy body is more likely to leave you with a well-functioning mind.
This is just another example of why diet and nutrition are so critically important for everyone — and why the food you eat is actually preventative medicine in itself.