Could brain stimulation fight obesity?


PEOPLE with obesity could benefit
from magnetic or electric stimula
tion of the brain that helps them to eat less, a new review of studies finds.
In the review, researchers looked at the latest work on two noninvasive brain-stimulation techniques, and found that for people with obesity, both electrical and magnetic pulses yielded promising, though very preliminary, results. The main target of the brain stimulation is usually a region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is linked to dietary self-control, the review said.
For people with other eating disorders, such as bulimia and binge-eating, treatment with multiple sessions of noninvasive brain stimulation — usually magnetic pulses — may also have the potential to help. However, the researchers ultimately said the results were inconclusive. And when it comes to using the brain stimulation to treat people with anorexia, “the findings are quite mixed and less promising,” said study lead author Peter Hall, a clinical psychologist and the director of the Prevention Neuroscience Lab at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
Much recent work has focused on the possible beneficial effects of noninvasive brain stimulation techniques, such as boosting creativity, enhancing math skills and helping patients recover from strokes. Two commonly analyzed techniques include transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which applies electric current to the brain, and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which uses magnetic pulses.
“There is a lot of interest in new techniques for treating disorders of eating, as many of our standard approaches [to treating eating disorders] don’t work as well as we would like,” Hall told Live Science.
In the review, the researchers looked at studies done on both tDCS and rTMS. They found in a number of those studies that stimulating the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex appears to decrease cravings.
In addition, three completed clinical trials and one ongoing one suggest that noninvasive brain stimulation can reduce food consumption and thus fight obesity. However, Hall and his colleagues noted that all these studies were short and had few participants, and that such work mostly highlighted the need for more clinical trials. Hall and his colleagues also examined recent studies of people with bulimia and anorexia. Bulimia includes cyclical binge-eating episodes followed by purging behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or laxatives.

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