Weight loss is not merely a matter of willpower, but is actually connected to much more basic visual and olfactory cues
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have discovered a neural subnetwork of connected regions between the brain and gastric basal electric frequency that correlates with future weight loss based on connectivity patterns.
BGU's multidisciplinary team's findings, ‘Neural correlates of future weight loss reveal a possible role for brain-gastric interaction’s, published in the journal NeuroImage, support a prevalent neural theory that people with an increased neural response to seeing and smelling food consistently overeat and gain weight.
"To our surprise, we discovered that while higher executive functions, as measured behaviourally, were dominant factors in weight loss, this was not reflected in patterns of brain connectivity," explained Gidon Levakov, a graduate student, who led the study from the BGU Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. "Consequently, we found that weight loss is not merely a matter of willpower, but is actually connected to much more basic visual and olfactory cues."
The researchers identified a connection between the stomach basal electric rhythm within the subnetwork and weight loss. That rhythm governs the gastric waves that are associated with hunger and satiety. They also found that the brain's pericalcarine sulcus, the anatomical location of the primary visual cortex, was the most active node in this subnetwork.
The team, led by Professor Iris Shai of BGU's Department of Epidemiology, assessed 92 people during an 18-month lifestyle weight loss intervention. The participants were selected based on large waist circumference, abnormal blood lipid levels and age.
Before the intervention, the participants underwent a battery of brain imaging scans and behavioural executive function tests. The participants' weight loss was measured after six months of dieting, in which, according to Shai, the maximum weight loss is generally achieved. The team found that the subnetwork of brain regions corresponded more closely to basic sensory and motor regions rather than higher, multi-modal regions.
“We note though that such evidence should be further addressed and confirmed by directly recording the electrical activity from the stomach in a future study,” the researchers write. “These findings may have an important implication for our understanding of the aetiology of obesity and the mechanism of response to dietary intervention.”
"It appears that visual information may be an important factor triggering eating," said principal investigator, Professor Galia Avidan, from the BGU Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Psychology. "This is reasonable, given that vision is the primary sense in humans."
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