Obesity is a well-known epidemic that affects over 600 million people worldwide and has become a leading contributor to the most common types of health related disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and even several types of cancer. What we currently understand about obesity is how it can be detrimental to a person’s health; however an increase in obesity rates has drawn attention to the adverse effects it has on an individual’s mind and cognitive functions. Researchers over at the University of Alabama at Birmingham sought to decipher in a four-part experiment on mice published last month in The Journal of Neuroscience which can be found here. The experiments consisted of studies done on laboratory mice, obese and normal weight, that tested recognition, epigenetic changes, expression of specific genes, and the masking of certain genes.
In both the recognition and epigenetic tests researchers found the obese mice tested worse in spatial memory tasks, and had less expression of genes in the hippocampus. Researchers found four specific genes that were not expressed in the overweight mice that were expressed in the normal weight mice. Of these four there was one in specific that was thought to be at the nexus of memory and metabolic function because it proved most influential in both sets of mice. When this gene was expressed in the overweight mice they experienced better performance, and when they were masked in the healthy mice they experienced similar results to that of the overweight mice. This research helps outline some of the more critical effects that the obesity crisis is having the general population. Not only does obesity present the likelihood of a shorter life span, but also makes it possible to experience early difficulty with memory retention which could lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Diseases like this make it very difficult for an individual to live out their life and places added stress on their family and friends as they witness a loved one slowly begins to forget. Explaining the effects of obesity is the first part in helping to solve the epidemic and the 600 million individuals affected by this deadly, and now degenerative, disease.