John Gunstad, an associate professor in Kent State University's Department of Psychology, and a team of researchers have discovered a link between weight loss and improved memory and concentration. The study shows that bariatric surgery patients exhibited improved memory function 12 weeks after their operations.
"The initial idea came from our clinical work," Gunstad said. "I was working at Brown Medical School in Rhode Island at the time and had the chance to work with a large number of people who were looking to lose weight through either behavioral means or weight loss surgery."
Gunstad said he kept noticing that these patients would make similar mistakes. "As a neuropsychologist who is focused on how the brain functions, I look for these little mental errors all the time," Gunstad explained.
The researchers discovered that bariatric surgery patients demonstrated improved memory and concentration 12 weeks after surgery, improving from the slightly impaired range to the normal range.
"The primary motivation for looking at surgery patients is that we know they lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time, so it was a good group to study," Gunstad said. "This is the first evidence to show that by going through this surgery, individuals might improve their memory, concentration and problem solving."
Gunstad thinks the study is reason for optimism. "One of the things about obesity, relative to other medical conditions, is that something can be done to fix it," Gunstad said. "Our thought was, if some of these effects are reversible, then we're really on to something -- that it might be an opportunity for individuals who have memory or concentration problems to make those things better in a short amount of time. And that's what we found."
Gunstad wasn't surprised by the study's findings. "A lot of the factors that come with obesity -- things such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea -- that might damage the brain are somewhat reversible," Gunstad said. "As those problems go away, memory function gets better."