According to a ne study, being overweight appears related to reduced levels of a molecule that reflects brain cell health in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory, learning, and emotions, and likely also involved in appetite control.
The research team visualized the molecule, N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), using non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). NAA is associated with brain cell health. Overweight study participants exhibited lower levels of NAA in the hippocampus than normal weight subjects. The effect was independent of age, sex and psychiatric diagnoses.
The importance of the hippocampus -- a seahorse-shaped organ deep within the brain -- to the formation and preservation of memory and to emotional control is well known, but its role in appetite control is less established.
The researchers noted that the relevance of the finding is that being overweight is associated with specific changes in a part of the brain that is crucial to memory formation and emotions, and probably to appetite. The study is believed to be the first human research documenting the association of NAA with body weight.
Whether low NAA is a consequence of being overweight, causes being overweight, or a combination of both remains to be determined. Future studies are planned to focus on whether weight loss leads to an increase in NAA.
Source: NeuroImage: Clinical, February 2014.
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