Brain impairments linked with metabolic syndrome

September 13, 2012

Adolescents with metabolic syndrome have significantly lower cognitive performance and reductions in brain structural integrity, New York University researchers have found. Can these impairments affect a teenager’s academic or future professional potential? More >>

Adolescents with metabolic syndrome have significantly lower cognitive performance and reductions in brain structural integrity, New York University researchers have found.

Metabolic syndrome has been shown to be associated with cognitive dysfunction in adults. In the first study to examine the effect of metabolic syndrome on the brain in adolescents, researchers compared cognitive performance and brain structure in 49 adolescents with metabolic syndrome and 62 matched controls without metabolic syndrome. Adolescents in the metabolic syndrome group met at least 3 of the 5 criteria for the syndrome (ie, abdominal obesity, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, hypertriglyceridemia, hypertension, and insulin resistance) but did not have type 2 diabetes.

Adolescents with metabolic syndrome scored lower on standardized measures of arithmetic and spelling, attention, and mental flexibility and tended to have lower overall intelligence functioning than adolescents without metabolic syndrome. They also had smaller hippocampal volumes, increased brain cerebrospinal fluid, and reductions of microstructural integrity in white matter tracts. Cognitive performance worsened with an increasing number of metabolic syndrome components present.

The findings suggest that even short-term impairments in metabolism, without clinical evidence of vascular disease, give rise to brain complications. The negative effects on academic performance could affect adolescents’ future professional potential and lifelong learning, and the results argue strongly for early, comprehensive intervention in pediatric patients with obesity. Brain function should be 1 of the parameters evaluated when considering early treatment of obese children.

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