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March 6, 2023

Obesity Affects Brain Health. What can you do?

Obesity Affects Brain Health. What can you do?

January 9, 2023 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition


Obesity is a global epidemic that has astronomical consequences for the health of over 2.1 billion adults and the overall society. Unhealthy diets with nutrient-poor, calorie rich diets and physical inactivity are the main contributing factors for the development and perpetuation of obesity. The western diet causes repetitive strain and dysregulation to brain function. It impairs the key metabolic hormone, leptin, and many other hormones, causing weight gain. Many important plant-based nutrients and essential fatty acids naturally protect and support healthy weight by optimizing your brain health and hormone status.

Dietary Repetitive Strain

Repetitive strain - you may think about this effect with joints and overuse syndromes. Your brain, however, is also susceptible to repetitive strain. Many things strain brain tolerance, such as sleep deprivation and disorders, high stress, excess alcohol, and especially unhealthy dietary choices. Daily choices of high calorie, sugar-rich, high saturated fat, nutrient poor foods over months, years, and a lifetime cause sustained pro-inflammatory stress to the hypothalamus of your brain.

It is now well established in medical literature that chronic dietary induced inflammatory stress to the brain is a primary cause of obesity. The Western Diet/Standard American Diet/Cafeteria Diet leads to leptin and insulin resistance in the hypothalamus and disrupts metabolic activities through out the body.

Furthermore, over-consumption of calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods disrupts and impairs mitochondrial activities and hormone regulation that affects metabolic signals in the hypothalamus and entire body. Higher amounts of free radicals are produced causing tissue stress.

In addition, the lack of antioxidant reserves from an unhealthy diet further exacerbates mitochondria oxidative stress, increases free radical production, and underlies the metabolic fallout. A chronic unhealthy diet creates a slow-moving destructive metabolic avalanche to your hypothalamus, mitochondria, hormones, and overall metabolism, resulting in obesity.

Repetitive dietary strain and chronic, low-grade obesity-induced inflammation also impacts other parts of your brain including the cortex, brainstem, and hippocampus. Imaging studies show that parts of the brain atrophy with obesity. Advanced age, poor blood flow, and dysregulated blood sugar worsen brain atrophy.

This ultimately affects your mood, memory, focus, cognition, balance and coordination, appetite regulation, mental and physical energy, and much more. It leads to a chronic cycle of fatigue, blood sugar issues, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disorders, immune dysregulation, build-up of fat in the liver, destruction to cartilage, bones, and joints, and much more.

Additional information may be found in these previous articles:

Western Diet Causes Cycle of Brain Damage and Obesity

Elevated Leptin, Autoimmune Disorders, and Chronic Inflammation

Diabetes Speeds Up Brain Shrinkage

How Poor Maternal Nutrition Causes Later Life Obesity

Dietary Polyphenols

The inclusion of colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, spices, and teas are essential to stop the cycle of dietary-induced inflammatory changes to your brain. These foods provide critical polyphenols that protect and support your overall brain health, mitochondria, cellular metabolism, and quench free radical stress. The western diet dominated with processed, packaged food, high starch, saturated fat, white flour, and white sugar lacks these powerful, protective polyphenols.

Thousands of polyphenols are found in apricots, apples, berries, cherries, citrus fruits, grapes, lentils, nuts, and numerous other vibrant plant-based foods. Types of polyphenols include curcumin, quercetin, green, white, and black tea, resveratrol, pterostilbene, grape seed extract, dark chocolate and more.

Here are some recent studies that highlight the benefits of various polyphenols in management of diet-induced obesity and support brain health.

Grape Seed Extract

Grape seed extract, a type of oliproanthocyanidin (OPC) polyphenol was evaluated in obese rats fed a high fat, calorie-rich, nutrient poor cafeteria diet. Study results showed that grape seed extract enhanced leptin hormone signaling activity in the brain and body. It also exhibited antioxidant protection against hypothalamic inflammatory stress and reduced overeating behaviors.

Green Tea Extract

Green tea extract, loaded with polyphenols, has a long-standing reputation for its extensive antioxidant benefits, AMPK activation for fat burning and brown fat activation, and leptin hormone modulation. Green tea and other polyphenol rich teas help protect against high fructose rich diets that interfere with leptin hormone regulation and stress brain health.

Use of green tea extract in a 2016 double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of women with visceral obesity showed functional enhancement in the hormones, adiponectin and grehlin. Leptin and insulin activity improved, resulting in significant weight loss. Green tea extract dosage was 857 mg per day during this 12-week long study.

A recent animal study showed that green tea extract worked against daytime overeating induced by a high fat diet. Green tea extract modulated the expression of hunger and appetite regulating and circadian rhythm genes found in the hypothalamus. This aided natural satiety. This may be of benefit to those of you who “fall off your diet” late in the day.

Pomegranate Extract

Another recent study demonstrated the antioxidant benefits of pomegranate extract. It buffered against oxidative stress within the hypothalamus, while protecting mitochondria via the Nrf2 pathway. Pomegranate extract is often used to support cardiovascular health.


Quercetin is a well-known flavonoid used for respiratory and immune health. It also provides stellar antioxidant support against diet and obesity-induced oxidative stress to the brain.

Recent research demonstrated the buffering effect of quercetin against over-activity of microglial cells within the brain. These neuro-immune clean-up cells were in a state of repetitive strain from obesity-induced hypothalamic stress. Supplementation led to diminished cytokines levels associated with a high-fat diet in obese mice.

Omega Fatty Acids

It is also vital to include healthy unsaturated fatty acids for brain health, hormone signaling, and stress modulation. It doesn’t matter what age you are; your brain needs these healthy fats. These essential fats are also critical during family planning and early childhood development as they regulate brain and metabolic structure and function.

Omega-3 fish oil from cold-water fatty fish, and other types of unsaturated healthy omega oils like olive oil, avocado, flaxseed, walnut, chia seeds, plant micro-algae, aid in building cell membranes, neurological electrical activity, and management of inflammatory signals in the hypothalamus and other regions of your brain.

Plant-based omega-3 ALA unsaturated fatty acids are converted into the preferred DHA and EPA in your body. This process, however, is often limited due to insufficient magnesium, vitamin C, B6, iron, and zinc or because of impaired gene signals.

Your diet is the most important thing that you can use to revitalize your health. Exercise and physical activity are also vital. If your New Year’s resolution focuses on your workouts but your diet falls short, it will be difficult to conquer the effects of obesity and leptin resistance.

Strive to include 5-13 servings per day of colorful, preferably organic, fruits and vegetables along with quality omega-3 oils, spices, legumes, seeds and nuts, and organic free-range, pasture raised protein sources at least 80 percent of the time.

Consider extra support such as Green Tea Extract, Quercetin, Grape Seed Extract, Leptinal or the Leptin Control Pack to optimize your nutrient status.

Is your diet promoting a repetitive strain to your brain and metabolism or is it protecting it?