Visceral fat: An apple-shaped body inflames brain chemistry, study shows

Dr Zoe Williams discusses visceral fat on This Morning

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Researchers from the Medical College of Georgia noted that excess weight around the middle – known as an apple-shaped body – can lead to damaged cognition. Published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, neuroscientist Dr Alexis Stranahan commented on the findings. “We have identified a specific signal that is generated in visceral fat,” the expert said.

“[It is] released into the blood that gets through the blood brain barrier and into the brain where it activates microglia and impairs cognition.”

Visceral fat generates high, chronic levels of interleukin-1 beta that over stimulates the usually protective microglia – the resident immune cells in the brain.

Increased inflammation within the body amplifies the immune response so much that it begins to attack the body’s cells.

To explore the effects on the brain, the NLRP3 protein – found in visceral fat that promotes the production of interleukin-1 beta – was removed in mice.

As a result, the mice were protected against obesity-induced inflammation of the brain and cognitive problems.

In the trial, visceral fat was transplanted from obese mice with the NLRP3 protein into lean mice.

For the lean mice, this resulted in increased levels of interleukin-1 beta in the hippocampus – a centre of learning and memory in the brain – and impaired cognition.

This suggests the harmful proteins created by visceral fat caused the same impact of obesity from a high-fat diet.

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To measure cognitive ability, the scientists looked at mice’s ability to navigate a water maze after 12 weeks on a high- or low-fat diet.

The mice who consumed a higher-fat diet, and those who had the NLRP3 protein transplant, took longer to navigate the maze.

Meanwhile, mice who had the NLRP3 protein removed could more easily navigate the maze.

The high-fat diet, and mice with the NLRP3 protein also had weaker connection between neurons involved in learning and memory.

Mice on a high-fat diet, who had the NLRP3 protein removed, were spared cognitive decline, as were mice on low-fat diets without the protein.

The researchers noted that mice tend to prefer new toys to play with, which was especially supported with mice without the troublesome NLRP3 protein.

Emerging evidence is growing where removing visceral fat through surgery “can improve attention, mood and executive function”.

However, you don’t have to go under the knife to lose visceral fat and reap the rewards.

Instead, incorporating daily exercise or movement into your everyday life will work wonders.

The NHS recommends everybody to move about for at least 30 minutes daily, five times per week – and for good reason too.

Shedding visceral fat will ultimately lead to health benefits, with the troublesome body fat linked to various diseases, such as heart disease.

Exercises to shift the harmful belly fat could include jogging, dancing, gardening, and swimming.

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