Fighting Obesity with Active Brain Stimulation?


Obesity is a complex disorder that has a variety of causes from genes and family history, environment to an inactive lifestyle, but these might not be the only causes. According to a team of researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the brain might be a cause as well. A new study found that non-invasive stimulation of the brain reduces calorie intake and increases weight loss in obese adults. These new findings propose a viable intervention for obesity when combined with exercise and eating healthy food.

Controlling obesity with brain stimulation shouldn’t be as shocking as it sounds because everything from cravings, self-control to appetite is channeled through the brain.

Previous studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that’s in charge of behaviour regulation and decision making, is more active in lean people. This suggests that obese people keep on eating, even if they decide they want to lose weight so the stimulation of this area of the brain would make lose-weight decisions more powerful.

Scientists at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch chose a total of 9 obese men and women who resided at the facility 2 times, each lasting 8 days. Each time the subjects ate a weight-maintaining diet for 5 days and for the next 3 days they received either fake or active transcranial direct current stimulation. The active tDCS stimulated the prefrontal cortex region, which also controls the brains reward pathways, such as sex, social interactions and of course food. After the treatment the subjects drank and ate as much as they wanted from computerized vending machines which contained a variety of foods and drinks to choose from.

Four subjects who were receiving fake tDCS during both stays, ate up the same number of calories from the vending machines on each visit, and didn’t lose any weight. The other 5 who received fake stimulation during the first stay and active stimulation during the second stay, consumed on average 700 fewer Calories and lost 0.8 pound during the latter.

The next study will focus on two separate groups, one receiving only fake and the other only active tDCS pulses.

As one of the biggest preventable chronic diseases, obesity and the resultant healthcare costs are a major problem in today’s society. In the US alone, estimates for healthcare costs involving obesity range from $147 to $210 billion annually, making effective and innovative treatments in very high demand.

Findings have been published in the journal Obesity in a study titled: “Neuromodulation targeted to the prefrontal cortex induces changes in energy intake and weight loss in obesity”.