A study of obese patients going through bariatric surgery demonstrates that, sometimes, a medication’s or medical procedure’s side effects are beneficial.
Dr. John Gunstad and a team of researchers found that bariatric surgery patients exhibited improved memory function 12 weeks after their operations.
“The initial idea came from our clinical work,” Gunstad said. “I was working at Brown Medical School in Rhode Island at the time and had the chance to work with a large number of people who were looking to lose weight through either behavioral means or weight loss surgery.”
Gunstad, a neuropsychologist, noticed that the patients would make similar mental mistakes.
In the study, researchers followed 150 participants (109 bariatric surgery patients and 41 obese control subjects). Of this group, many bariatric surgery patients exhibited impaired performance on cognitive testing.
The researchers discovered that bariatric surgery patients demonstrated improved memory and concentration 12 weeks after surgery, improving from the slightly impaired range to the normal range.
“The primary motivation for looking at surgery patients is that we know they lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time, so it was a good group to study,” Gunstad said.
“This is the first evidence to show that by going through this surgery, individuals might improve their memory, concentration and problem solving.”
According to the researchers, the study shows that memory or concentration problems can be improved or even eliminated with obesity reduction — and, this can occur in a short period.
The team is following study participants for two years. They tested subjects before surgery, 12 weeks after surgery and one year after surgery, and will also test at the two-year mark.
Gunstad wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings. “A lot of the factors that come with obesity – things such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea – that might damage the brain are somewhat reversible,” Gunstad said. “As those problems go away, memory function gets better.”
The team’s next project will examine whether people who lose weight the old-fashioned way see the same effects as those who have had bariatric surgery.
Gunstad said he expects to see similar results.
“One of the things we know is that as individuals become more cardiovascular fit and their heart health gets better, their brain health also improves,” Gunstad said. “Even if we take young adults and put them through an exercise program, their memory and their concentration get better by the end of the program.”
Source: Kent State University