New research suggests that there is a “reciprocal relationship” between obesity and the brain’s prefrontal cortex — an area scientists associate with self-control, among other functions.
But more and more neuroscientific studies show that physiological reactions we are not even aware of, let alone have a say over, regulate much of our appetite.
For instance, studies have suggested that upon entering a restaurant, our brains are unconsciously responding to the surrounding food cues, causing us to eat more than we planned.
Moreover, a recent study has shown that a hormone called asprosin controls “hunger” neurons in our brains. The hormone “switches on” appetite-stimulating neurons while “silencing” the activity of appetite-suppressing neurons.
New research has now looked deeper into the connection between appetite, self-control, and the brain. Specifically, Cassandra Lowe, a BrainsCAN postdoctoral fellow at the Western University in Ontario, Canada, led scientists who examined the link between obesity and a brain area they typically associate with self-control — the prefrontal cortex.
Lowe and colleagues wondered if there were individual variations in the structure and functionality of the prefrontal cortex that might “predispose” someone to consuming too many “calorie-dense foods.” Conversely, they questioned if obesity leads to changes in the structure and functionality of this brain area.
The role of the prefrontal cortex in obesity
As Lowe and colleagues explain in their work, in order to account for obesity, existing neuroscientific studies have so far centered on the reward-processing mechanisms and areas in the brain. Namely, the “striatum, midbrain, amygdala, and orbitofrontal cortex,” as well as the dopamine-releasing dorsal striatum have been the focus of much research.
However, explain the authors of the latest review, the prefrontal cortex may be just as crucial. This area is important for executive function, complex decision making, and planning future actions; the area also acts as a “filter” that helps a person express the appropriate response to a social situation.
Lowe and colleagues say there is a significant body of research suggesting that individuals who have less prefrontal cortex activity when making a decision may also be prone to craving more calorie-dense foods. Such people may also be more vulnerable to food cues, such as food advertisements.
But the story does not end here. Such behaviors say the researchers, in turn, may inform changes in the brain that then lead to food overconsumption in a mutually reinforcing relationship between obesity and the prefrontal cortex.
“It’s not just the case that obesity is causing these issues in the brain structure and function, but it is this reciprocal relationship — that differences in brain structure and function can cause obesity — that’s really important,” says Lowe.
Source – Medicalnewstoday.com