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Weight Loss, Memory Gain

Need another incentive to shed a few pounds? When you lose weight by changing your eating habits, your memory and mind get sharper, Swedish researchers have found.

Previous research has shown that overweight people have a harder time recalling episodic memories — like a first date or a childhood trip to the Grand Canyon — and that this memory process can improve with weight loss. Studies suggest that this enhanced brain function is a result of better insulin resistance, which can be hampered by obesity. Insulin sensitivity can be modulated by diet and lifestyle, and as it improves, so does brain function.

Now a recent study establishes that losing weight actually alters how your brain works, leading to better memory performance, says researcher Andreas Stomby, MD, who presented the findings at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in San Francisco last June.

Stomby and his colleagues enlisted 20 overweight women, with a median age of 61, to follow healthy eating plans for six months. Before and after the diet, the women were asked to memorize a series of names and faces, and later recall the first letter of each person’s name, during a functional MRI.

After losing an average of 17.6 pounds, participants scored better on the memory test. The researchers also noted some interesting changes in brain activity: When learning or “encoding” new data, participants’ brains were more active than before they lost weight; but when they were asked to remember material, their brains were less active. This suggests that with weight loss, the brain becomes more efficient — voracious when building memories, but requiring less effort when recalling them.

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