Over 70% of Americans are overweight. More than a third are considered obese. Obesity has many negative health side effects including heart disease, high blood pressure, increased levels of LDL cholesterol, type II diabetes and an increased chance of stroke and some cancers. Being overweight or obese can also negatively affect mental health and has been linked to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. People with bipolar disorder are more likely to be obese or overweight than the general population. According to a new study, obesity may lead to decreased cognition in people with bipolar disorder.

Cognition, or cognitive function, is how the brain processes some kinds of information. There are five main areas of cognition:

  1. Attention
  2. Memory
  3. Critical thinking
  4. Some fine motor skills
  5. Social functioning

Anywhere between 15-60% of people with bipolar disorder have problems with cognitive functioning at some point. It is more prevalent the more severe the illness with people who have experienced multiple manic episodes reportedly having more problems with some areas of cognition.

New research from Ester Mora out of Hospital Universitari Santa Maria, Lleida, Spain and associates looks at whether or not obesity may be linked with cognition problems in people with bipolar disorder. The study took place over six years with fifty-four subjects completing the study. Twenty-eight of the subjects had bipolar disorder and there were 26 healthy controls.

The study authors initially interviewed 121 individuals for the study including 52 patients with bipolar disorder and 69 healthy controls. Participants were screened for weight/obesity, body mass index, executive function, attention, processing speed, verbal memory visual memory and social functioning. After six years, the remaining participants were screened again. Those with bipolar disorder had been symptom-free for at least three months.

The results of the study showed that obesity in bipolar disorder patients was correlated with worse cognitive function in the short and long-term. This goes along with previous research that has shown similar findings.

There are many reasons why this may be the case. Firstly, medication for bipolar disorder can greatly affect both weight and cognition. Some medications have been known to cause up to 35 pounds of weight gain in a single year. These same medications can also interfere with cognitive functions.

Second, the authors note that the worse a person’s cognitive impairment, the more likely they are to be in treatment facilities that may not provide environments that encourage fitness or an active lifestyle.

So, the cause could be bi-directional. Obesity can contribute to cognition problems with factors like insulin resistance, inflammatory reactions and disruption of brain circuitry. Problems with cognition can also result in a lifestyle that promotes obesity.

Either way, the issue needs to be addressed. Patients need to be given support in order to promote healthy lifestyles. If you have problems with obesity and/or cognitive function, contact your doctors to find a personalized solution.

 

 

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Image credit: Jerry Luo