Obesity impacts memory & concentration, providing an alternative explanation to harm claimed from a toxic exposure

Obesity impacts memory & concentration, providing an alternative explanation to harm claimed from a toxic exposure

Prior posts have noted that the key to toxic torts is causation.  Prior posts have also noted some potential alternative factors that should be considered when various types of harm are alleged that supposedly result from a toxic tort.  Now, obesity may be a factor in impaired memory and concentration.

A number of studies in recent years have shown that individuals with diseases linked to obesity, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and Type 2 diabetes, do not score as well on cognitive tests as do those less heavy.  To test whether weight alone, and not disease, might be partially responsible, researchers recruited 150 obese individuals for a series of cognitive tests.  Two-thirds were scheduled to undergo weight-loss surgery in the near future.

Test scores were compared to an international database that included information on results for very "healthy" individuals.  The obese individuals generally scored on the low end of the normal range, although 1/4 feel into the impaired classification.  Tested 12 weeks later following bariatric surgery, the lighter (but still deemed heavy) individuals scored significantly better; most scored in the average or above-average range.  Those who did not have the surgery scored lower than the first time, which puzzled the researchers.

The report can be found at http://www.soard.org/article/S1550-7289(10)00688-X/abstract.

The same researchers then undertook a second series of tests using MRI to examine for possible causal elements.  They found that there was damage to brain white matter, impairing the clarity or strength of signals sent along the nerve bundles. 

Critics noted that the number of individuals (17) so assessed was quite small, thus raising questions about drawing conclusions from the research.

The report can be found at http://www.nature.com/oby/journal/v19/n3/abs/oby2010312a.html.

Other researchers have looked for the presence of C-Reactive Protein ("CPR") in a much larger group (447 older adults) and also assessed nerve related damage by using MRI.  Both Type 2 diabetes and obesity can raise levels of CPR.  The researchers found that as levels of CRP increased, so did impairment of white matter insulation. 

The researchers concluded that low-grade inflammation was an important factor in impairment of white matter.  They also noted that higher levels of CRP correlated with worse performance in executive function, including tests of psychomotor speed and attention.

The study can be found at http://www.neurology.org/content/74/13/1022.abstract.

Thus, there are several alternative hypotheses that can be put forth to explain alleged memory and concentration problems that are alleged to arise from a toxic tort, providing that the plaintiff is obese.

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