Bariatric Surgery, Obesity, and the Brain

A hundred years ago the rate of obesity in America was 4%. Today it is 40%. It is obvious that there is a connection between the foods we eat and obesity. What is far less recognized as the connection between obesity and the brain. This link between obesity and brain function is very important and often neglected after bariatric surgery. Along with our metabolism and weight, our brains are dramatically influenced by the food that we eat. The human brain has about 100 billion neurons. These neurons communicate with each other in complicated networks. Each thought we have activate some of these connections. Repeated thoughts or behaviors generate circuits in the brain for these connections. Rarely used connections or circuits are smaller. Those that are used frequently become bigger and more prominent. It’s like a small dirt pathway compared to a freeway. From early infancy we generate circuits and pathways in the brain that are influenced by what we eat and that in turn influenced our food choices. By the time we are teenagers we have circuits that have become programs for how we eat. Brain scans have shown differences between the brains of obese individuals and those of lean individuals. Bariatric surgery does many things. One of the most important is it changes these brain circuits relating to food. Surgery generates a window of time in which we can reprogram the brain. At Idaho BMI, we have brain exercises that capitalize on this period of neuroplasticity or the ability to reprogram the brain. This makes it far less likely that a person will regain the weight down the road after surgery. Our comprehensive approach to weight loss and bariatric surgery increases long-term success for our patients.

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