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Can non-invasive brain stimulation combat obesity?

Credit: Allan Ajifo
Brain stimulation limits calories consumed in adults with obesity

A National Institutes of Health study has reported that non-invasive brain stimulation decreased calorie consumption and increased weight loss in adults who are obese. The findings suggest a possible intervention for obesity, when combined with healthy eating and exercise. The paper, ‘Neuromodulation targeted to the prefrontal cortex induces changes in energy intake and weight loss in obesity’, was published in Obesity and presented at ObesityWeek, the annual international conference of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery and The Obesity Society.

Led by scientists at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch, part of NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the team studied a total of nine men and women with obesity who resided in the Branch’s metabolic ward on two separate visits, each for eight days. On each visit, the participants ate a weight-maintaining diet for five days. Then for three days, they unknowingly received either active or sham transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Participants then ate and drank as much as they wanted from computerised vending machines. Applied to the scalp, the active tDCS targeted the brain region controlling behavior and reward.

The study’s computerized vending machine contained a variety of foods and drinks for the participants to choose at will (Credit: Dr Marci Gluck)

The four people who received sham stimulation during both visits consumed the same number of calories from the vending machines on each visit and did not lose weight. However, the five people who got inactive stimulation on the first visit, and active tDCS at the brain target on the second visit, consumed an average of 700 fewer calories and lost an average of 0.8lbs on the second visit.

The study researchers said that they are planning to compare a group getting only active tDCS with a separate group getting only sham stimulation, and hat acknowledged further studies are needed to confirm the safety and effectiveness of tDCS for weight loss.

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