Weight Loss and Memory Improvements

weight loss and memoryI’m still in the middle of unpacking (more on my new job and place tomorrow!), but I wanted to pop in real quick to share an interesting study I came across (…when I should have been unpacking more boxes!):

According to a new study presented at The Endocrine Society’s 95th Annual Meeting in San
 Francisco, research suggests that obesity-related memory 
problems are actually reversible. (When it comes to brain stuff, being able to 
reverse something is a pretty big deal. It’s one thing to make a problem stop – completely undoing the damage is a whole other ball game.)

The study, led by Dr. Andreas Pettersson of Umea University, Sweden, stems from research showing that obesity contributes to episodic
 memory problems. (If you’re interested, I included some background studies at the bottom.) Monitoring a group of overweight women with functional MRI’s, 
researchers observed the group’s ability to create new memories. Then, they 
re-adminstered the exercise after the women participated in a weight loss 
program for six months. (The group’s average BMI, or body mass index, dropped 
from 32.1 to 29.2 – below the cutoff for obesity.) Pettersson says that after losing weight, the group’s brain activity patterns reflected 
improvement and that participants seemed able to more efficiently retrieve
 episodic memories.

According to Pettersson,

“The altered brain activity after weight loss suggests that the brain becomes 
more active while storing new memories and therefore needs fewer brain 
resources to recollect stored information.”

(For anyone curious about how the women dropped the weight: half ate caveman
-style, with the Paleo diet, while the other half ate 15% protein, 55% carbs and
 30% fats. There were no significant differences in results.)

The science world has been buzzing about weight loss and memory for a while. In 
2009, researchers found 
that obese people had 8% less brain tissue than normal-weight 
people, while overweight people (a step under obese) had 4% less tissue. According to senior
 study author, Paul Thompson,

“The brains of obese people looked 16 years older
 than the brains of those who 
were lean, and in overweight people looked 8 years older.”

An earlier study from 2006, also linked obesity with memory problems:

“Results showed obese individuals had poorer memory performance when comparing persons across the adult lifespan (age 21-82 yr), but also when examining only younger and middle-aged adults (age 21-50 yr). Regression analyses found no evidence of an interaction between BMI and age on any memory variable, suggesting the relationship between BMI and memory does not vary with age. These findings provide further support for an independent relationship between obesity and reduced memory performance and suggest these effects are not limited to older adults.”

There are multiple theories floating around about what cause what, but two of the more prominent
 involve leptin and insulin resistance. As Dr. Susan A. Farr explains,

“Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells that tells us to stop eating. In obese people, it doesn’t cross into the brain to help regulate appetite. […] We’ve now found leptin affects the brain in other ways, compromising learning and memory. Low levels of leptin also could be related to cognitive deficits in disorders like type two diabetes.”

Insulin resistance (as we learned the other day with my little photo-shop cartoon experiment lol) is strongly related to obesity. Research has also linked the condition to cognitive problems, such as memory loss, especially later in life.

…That’s all the science I can muster up for now – but there’s definitely a lot to dig into here, so let me know if you have any questions and maybe I can write a follow-up article next month :) And I promise to post an update on my latest adventure tomorrow! Hope everyone’s having a great week!

PS. If you’re looking to improve your memory, don’t forget about blueberries! ;)

What tricks do you use to improve your memory?


Craft, S. (2005 December). Insulin resistance syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease: Age- and obesity-related effects on memory , amyloid, and inflammation. Neurobiology of Aging, 26(1): 65-69.

Endocrine Society. (2013, June 15). Weight Loss Improves Memory and Alters Brain Activity in Overweight Women. Newswise.

Nauret, R. (2009, August 26). Obesity  Tied to Memory Loss. Psych Central.

Raji, C.A., Ho, A.J., Parikshak, N.N., Becker, J.T., Lopez, O.L., Kuller, L.H., Hua, X., Leow, A.D., Toga, A.W., Thompson, P.M. (2010). Brain Structure and Obesity. Human Brain Mapping, 31:353-364. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20870

ScienceDaily. (2013, June 17). Weight Loss Improves Memory and Alters Brain Activity in Overweight Women. Retrieved: July 8 2013.


  1. says

    This is so interesting! Especially the part about the brain tissue being less in obese and overweight people. Stress plays a huge factor in my memory, but stress also leads to weight gain. I wonder if there is a connection there???
    Hope you are getting all of your packing done girly! Can’t wait for an update!

    • says

      I think that’s one of the ways insulin resistance might come into play… I did a quick google search (very professional, I know! lol) while I waited for the cable guy to finish hooking up my TV (my goal is to have this place 100% set up by tomorrow!) and I found this article explaining the relationship between stress and insulin resistance you might be interested in :)

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