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Brain changes show levels of obesity risk, according to new research from University of Turku

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2 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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A new study from the Finnish Turku PET Center, has shown that impacts on the brain are visible prior to someone developing obesity.

The novel piece of research from the University of Turku reveals that even before someone develops obesity, the brain experiences changes in insulin sensitivity and the neurotransmitter function, which results in a larger appetite and overeating.

A total of 41 young men were analysed in the study. Each of them had different obesity risk levels, high and low. Their brains were examined in the pre-obesity stages, with the insulin, opioid and cannabinoid function being tracked through PET scan imagery.

According to Tatu Kantonen, one of the authors of the study and a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Turku’s Department of Clinical Medicine, it had not yet been proven that changes in the brain were detectable prior to someone developing obesity. Until now, research had also not shown whether these changes could determine a higher risk for developing obesity in the future. 

Another outcome from the study was that family-related risk factors including obesity and diabetes in parents also appeared to result in altered insulin signalling in the brain and reduced function in the opioid and cannabinoid systems in their offspring.

Significant brain glucose uptake (BGU) was found in 38 of the males in the study who each had a higher familial obesity risk. A high BMI was also found to show a higher BGU, while participants who were engaged in regular exercise often presented a lower BGU in PET scans.

These new findings may affect how obesity prevention and treatments are tackled in the future.

The study, ‘Obesity risk is associated with altered cerebral glucose metabolism and decreased μ-opioid and CB1 receptor availability’, was published in the International Journal of Obesity.

In the UK, obesity is one of the largest health crises in the country. In 2018, almost 63% of adults in England were classified as overweight, and 28% obese. The World Health Organisation has noted that obesity has tripled worldwide, with 1.9 billion adults over the age of 18 were overweight, with 13% of the overall population being obese.


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