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Weight Loss Surgery for Obesity May Reduce Risk of Alzheimer's

Weight Loss Surgery for Obesity May Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s

Weight loss surgery can actually benefit the brain, according to a new study.

In fact, researchers theorize that bariatric surgery could help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s in obese people. Past research how shown that obese people face a 35 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than people at a normal weight.

“When we studied obese women prior to bariatric surgery, we found some areas of their brains metabolized sugars at a higher rate than normal weight women,” said one of the study’s authors, Cintia Cercato, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of São Paolo in Brazil.

“In particular, obesity led to altered activity in a part of the brain linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease — the posterior cingulate gyrus. Since bariatric surgery reversed this activity, we suspect the procedure may contribute to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.”

Bariatric surgery procedures are designed to restrict the amount of food patients can eat by reducing the stomach’s size or limit the absorption of nutrients by removing part of the small intestine from the path food takes through the digestive tract. Some procedures, such as Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYBG) surgery, use a combination of these methods.

The new study examined the effect of RYBG surgery on the brain function of 17 obese women. Researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans and neuropsychological tests to assess brain function and activity in the women before the surgery and six months after the procedure. The same tests also were run once on a control group of 16 healthy weight women.

Before they underwent surgery, the obese women had higher rates of metabolism in certain areas of the brain, including the posterior cingulate gyrus, according to the researchers.

Following surgery, there was no evidence of this exacerbated brain activity. Their brain metabolism rates were comparable to the activity seen in normal weight women, the study found.

After surgery, the obese women also performed better on a test measuring executive function — the brain’s ability to connect past experience and present action — than they did before the procedures.

Executive function is used in planning, organizing, and strategizing, the researchers noted. Five other neuropsychological tests measuring various aspects of memory and cognitive function showed no change following the surgery, the researchers added.

“Our findings suggest the brain is another organ that benefits from weight loss induced by surgery,” Cercato said.

“The increased brain activity the obese women exhibited before undergoing surgery did not result in improved cognitive performance, which suggests obesity may force the brain to work harder to achieve the same level of cognition.”

The study is published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Source: The Endocrine Society 

Abstract of woman’s brain photo by shutterstock.

Weight Loss Surgery for Obesity May Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Weight Loss Surgery for Obesity May Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 Aug 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.