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Memory Problems Linked to Insulin Sensitivity

A new study suggests obese individuals may have different brain responses when completing cognitive tasks as compared to normal-weight peers.

Researchers believe impairments in insulin sensitivity may lead to the difficulties.

The results provide further evidence that a healthy lifestyle at midlife could lead to a higher quality of life later on, especially as new drugs and treatments allow people to live longer.

“The good thing about insulin sensitivity is that it’s very modifiable through diet and exercise,” says Mitzi Gonzales, who co-authored the paper published in the journal Obesity with assistant professor Andreana Haley.

To better understand why midlife obesity is linked to higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia in old age, the researchers had middle-aged adults between 40 and 60 years of age complete a challenging cognitive task while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

While obese, overweight and normal-weight participants performed equally well on the task, obese individuals displayed lower functional brain response in one brain region, the inferior parietal lobe.

Obese participants also had lower insulin sensitivity than their normal weight and overweight peers, meaning that their bodies break down glucose less efficiently.

Poor insulin sensitivity may ultimately lead to diabetes mellitus if the pancreas is unable to secrete enough insulin to compensate for reduced glucose use.

The study shows that impaired insulin sensitivity, which generally accompanies obesity, may serve as a mediator between midlife obesity and cognitive decline later on. Researchers chose to examine insulin sensitivity because insulin helps regulate people’s metabolism and also affects cognitive functions.

The study exemplifies the aim of Haley’s lab, which is to use neuroimaging in middle-aged individuals to provide early identification of risk for cognitive decline later in life.

“Generally, very few people study the middle-aged segment of the population, but that’s when many chronic diseases are first identified and neurodegenerative processes are triggered,” says Haley.

“We found that while behavioral performance of obese middle-aged individuals may be the same — they can complete the same cognitive tasks as normal-weight individuals — their brain is already doing something different to produce that outcome.”

Haley and Gonzales are planning a followup study to determine if a 12-week exercise intervention can reverse the observed differences in brain response.

Source: University of Texas – Austin

Memory Problems Linked to Insulin Sensitivity

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Memory Problems Linked to Insulin Sensitivity. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/10/20/memory-problems-linked-to-insulin-sensitivity/19835.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.