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Re-focusing on a Healthier Lifestyle — Part One: The Brain-Gut Connection

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Is there a way we can re-focus and “train” our brains to help us deal with issues related to weight and weight loss? This is an important question because it gets to the core of weight loss, which is a change in thinking versus a change in eating.

To address this, we have to know how the brain functions, and what that means for us in terms of refocusing our thoughts to help with weight loss. That’s a lot of information so we’re going to do it in two parts. In this post, we’ll look at the connection between brain and stomach.

First, let’s look at what the science says. Researchers have been studying the “brain-gut” connection for some time. Their findings, for better and worse, suggest that there are definite connections to the way these organs function. For example, the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that helps with behavior, speech and logical reasoning — has been linked to obesity. This helps explain why some people are more likely to overeat. Another recent study says they have discovered a receptor (receptors are proteins that help cells communicate) in the brain that can help regulate the part of the brain that makes us want to eat.

While the previous studies looked at how the brain contributes to obesity, a different branch of research looks at the other side of the equation; that is, how weight loss affects the brain.  A great deal of research also has been done on this perspective and consistently reveals positive outcomes for the brain. For example, studies have found that as people lose weight, the gray matter in the brain increases. This means improvement for memory, cognitive skills, learning and motor functions. Multiple studies found similar findings for both children and adults, and the results also were consistent across different types of weight loss programs, including Very Low Calorie Diets (or VLCD).

These studies are important on several levels. The brain ages and shrinks as we get older and the impact is especially notable in people with obesity. However, these studies show that this can be reversed. Importantly, they also indicate that notable improvements occur throughout the weight loss process, not just as a result of overall weight loss. This means that benefits can be experienced with a weight loss of as little as five pounds, rather than as an effect that occurs only after a major weight loss.

This is good news! These studies confirm that obesity impacts brain function and that weight loss helps brain function. The more doctors and researchers understand about the connection between these organs and how they influence each other, the better positioned they will be to develop new treatment options.

These and other studies make it clear that weight loss offers measurable results to our brain, but they don’t tell us how we can use our improved brain mass to re-focus our attention. Although there’s no magic wand we can wave to erase our negative thoughts, there are ways to re-focus — so stay tuned for Part Two next week!

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