Electric Brain

Brain Stimulation and Appetite Reduction

The closing day of ObesityWeek did not disappoint, right up to the very end of the day. A symposium on brain science was one of more than a dozen sessions that left us with impossible choices in the last three hours Friday. This symposium was an outstanding follow-up to the paper presented by Marci Gluck on brain stimulation as a potential obesity treatment in the Obesity journal symposium on Wednesday.

No wonder scientists refer to this research as “brain porn.” These presentations detail how the brain so profoundly controls processes that regulate weight and they are compelling us to consider how obesity is a chronic disease that unfolds in many ways beyond the conscious control of people who have it.

Gluck’s publication was based on two small proof-of-principle studies with only nine subjects. So, obviously, more research will follow. Nonetheless, what they found was impressive. In double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled experiments, healthy volunteers who received electrical brain stimulation tended to eat fewer calories (p=0.07), consumed significantly fewer calories in soda (p=0.02) and fat (p=0.03), and lost significantly more weight (p=0.009).

Of course, the most significant caution here is that these findings are based on a very small and very short-term (9-day) study. Obesity is a chronic disease.

But this study and the symposium on brain-based interventions for obesity point to advances in the neuroscience of obesity that are progressing with dizzying speed. Nostrums calling for people with obesity to simply get a grip, eat less, and move more — as logical as that advice might be — are starting to sound a little primitive.

Click here for Gluck’s paper. Click here and here for more on appetite, obesity, and the brain.

Electric Brain, photograph © Michael Coghlan / flickr

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November 7, 2015