If you are overweight, you know you should shed some pounds, and you know many reasons why. The last reason you probably expected was your brain! Likely you expect the list to include diabetes, wearing down joints, and heart issues — and it does. Further, blood sugar directly affects the brain, so obviously diabetes is a problem for brain function. But there is another problem with fat which is quite subtle, yet has major implications!
A deeper look at fat
Babies start out with “brown fat”, This fat is well-behaved and very efficient. It produces heat (thermogenesis) when needed and burns calories in the process. This type of fat mostly disappears as the child grows, but some remains in adulthood. This fat can actually be produced from white fat, which is the “bad” fat. This production may occur during times of exposure to cold, and some suggest occasionally taking cold showers to promote this conversion. Unfortunately the amount of brown fat you can produce is rather limited for the effort — in adults, brown fat is the minority fat even in best cases.
“White fat”, also known as “White adipose tissue” (WAT) is detrimental when in excess. We all need some fat: it insulates our organs and provides some cushioning against impact. Of course, in times of famine, it can provide valuable energy. But few of us suffer from insufficient white fat!
Your body’s cells signal the immune system to protect them. Unfortunately the combined signaling of excess fat, even when not under attack by some invader, is inflammatory. The process starts when excess calories are being converted by the body to store as fat, which stimulates the production of leptin, which is a hormone. Hormones are proteins which travel throughout the body to invoke a particular response. The high levels of leptin excites the immune CD4 “T” cells, which then produce another signaling molecule, “interferon gamma”. This signals the type of immune cell called “M2 macrophages” to convert to their inflammatory M1 version. When that happens, the macrophages are going into attack mode. And the problem with “attack mode” is similar to what happens when an army goes into battle: collateral damage occurs. That is necessary when there is a real enemy to attack, but imagine an army blasting through a friendly territory — nothing good would come of that. Chronic inflammation occurs when there is no enemy, although the body thinks that there is, and the inflammatory warriors go out to do damage.
Chronic inflammation is a disaster to your health. Most degenerative diseases tie directly back to inflammation that just won’t let up. The immune system has a “healing” and an “attack” mode. There should be an ongoing balance between these modes. Continuous warfare is not only inappropriate, but it wears down your body.
What about the brain?
In childhood and early adulthood, we are producing neurons and developing the brain. Neural plasticity, which measures how readily we learn new things and make new mental connections, is high during this period. Neural plasticity drops but still continues in older age. How well it continues depends on how well the brain is nourished and oxygenated by the body. What is good for the body is good for the brain.
Chronic inflammation harms everything in the body, and the brain is no exception. Since we know that increasing fat also increases the “distress signals” the fat sends to the immune system, and that they cause inflammation, it should be no surprise that excess fat means reduced neural plasticity. This was verified by a study published in Brain Sciences conducted by UniSA and Deakin University. Responses from direct stimulation of brains of participants with healthy weight was compared with those from obese patients. The healthy group had significant responses, but those of the obese group were minimal. This measured the neural plasticity directly, and shows that the obese group was impaired in their ability to make new neural pathways —in essence, their ability to learn was impaired.
The study pointed out that a patient surviving a stroke or brain injury needs robust neural plasticity to relearn damaged pathways. Some patients may be able to learn again how to speak or walk, but that requires neural plasticity. So someone who is in a state of chronic inflammation and suffers from something that harms the brain is at a great disadvantage trying to recover from that damage. Graceful brain aging requires regaining or maintaining a healthy weight.
As noted in an article published in PubMed from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Pro-inflammatory mediators such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha or interleukin-1 beta can then in combination with interferon-gamma be toxic on neurons…” Interferon gamma is part of the signaling produced by fat cells, as previously mentioned.
Simply put, fat causes inflammation, and lots of fat causes lots of inflammation, which impacts your brain’s ability to learn and develop. Neurogenesis (production of new brain cells) can also be hampered by inflammation.
Not only learning ability is impacted by inflammation. Here is a quote from an article published in Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, “There is strong evidence indicating that depression is associated with an activation of the innate immune system.” Unnecessary immune system activity means inflammation. This article explains that pro-inflammatory cytokines can cross the blood-brain barrier and affect neuron function, and that microglia cells in the brain make cytokine receptors which amplify inflammatory signals. Other studies show that inflammation has multiple impacts on the brain and the mental state.
Good news — if you act
The production of leptin is stimulated when too many calories are consumed and the body prepares to store them in fat. Someone who is overweight who starts shedding pounds should see a reduction of inflammation right away — this is a good reason alone to consider a diet. Overeating also puts other loads on the digestive system, which are generally inflammatory: leaky gut, greater need for detoxification from the food byproducts, and invoking the insulin cycle. When you diet, you are getting a number of immediate benefits.
There are simple ways to reduce weight: intermittent fasting (simply increasing the amount of time from the last meal of the day to the first meal of the next day), eating plenty of vegetables (avoiding sugar in the process), and exercise. If you want to keep your mind sharp, especially as you age, drop your excess fat!
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
Your brain is the most important organ in your body because it controls the most number of functions. For each 5 additional unnecessary pounds you carry, you multiply the systemic full body effects of inflammation. The way you gain white fat is by eating more calories and carbs than you can burn. The excessive empty calories are changed into sugar and stored as fat. The worst area of all to inflame is your brain. White fat cells are inflammatory and hormonal factories that do you no good. When those inflammatory bi-products peak high enough, you start to destroy brain cells for life. So many people fear getting diagnosed with cancer, but a much worse disease is when your mind does not work anymore and you do not even know who you or your family are. We have had patients lose 100 lbs without effort when they follow our treatment and teaching program. Below are some options to start on your health journey.
- Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.