Lose weight using your brain

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With obesity becoming epidemic scientists work hard on ways to eliminate it or at least reduce.

A lot has been done so far, including the development of special exercises, medicine, gastric surgery and even inserting electrodes into the brain.

The latter might sound scary and it probably is, but according to the last researches it does works!

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) involves inserting electrodes into the brain. Electrodes work to deliver tiny bursts of electricity to change the patient’s behavior.

human brain

DBS is not a new technique. It has been used in the treatment of movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and dystonia for some time.

When it is used to treat obesity the hypothalamus is affected – the area of the brain which controls our desire to eat. The operation is intended to make the patient feel full.

The new way to treat the problem is being tested in a U.S. Government-approved trial. The program has been running for three years already.

The procedure is as follows: patients have holes drilled into their skull, then the electrodes are inserted and attached to wires, which are fed across the surface of the brain and under the skin to a small battery implanted under the collarbone.

The operation is performed under local anaesthetic to allow surgeons to know where to place the electrodes. The operation is guided by the patient’s reactions – the patient is asked whether or not he feels full.

Two patients have had the operation so far. And the results are positive – both patients eat less and lose weight.

The operations were performed by Dr Donald Whiting, a neurosurgeon at West Virginia University Hospital. Dr Whiting understands the procedure is drastic but feels it is right as ‘the obesity is a drastic problem’.

He adds:

There is a risk of stroke and death from this operation, but this is slight. These patients are probably at greater risk of heart attack and stroke from being obese.’

Though not everyone can go to the operation. Only patients who’ve tried every other treatment, including gastric surgery can be considered for DBS. However, Dr Whiting thinks the new approach makes a lot of sense.

If the brain controls intake of food, hunger and metabolism, why not go to the source and readjust the controls rather than take an organ such as the stomach, which is working perfectly well, and try to make it behave differently,’ he says.

During first month or two patients may lose weight slowly but Dr Whiting points out that it can take time to tune the electrodes to the right strength.

When we get this right, I would expect the weight loss to be more rapid,’ he says.

We are fine-tuning, so that the patient gets sufficient nutrition while losing an acceptable amount of weight each month.

The weight needs to come off at a steady rate – not too fast and not to slow – depending on the individual patient. Our work so far points to this type of surgery being an effective treatment for those who have reached the end of the road and tried all else.’

Despite all those pluses there are many experts who say the operation isn’t the best choice. As Dr David Ashton, one of the UK’s leading experts in obesity treatment, says:

Going into the brain carries a degree of risk – such as life-threatening infection and stroke – and you would question using it to treat obesity when there are less drastic options such as a gastric band.

This sort of operation might have a place as a treatment of last resort if other methods fail. But I’m not convinced I would want to advocate it to any of my patients.’

Other experts question how effective the treatment will be. Yet some British experts believe that medically, this approach is good.

Dr Ian Campbell, of the medical charity Weight Concern, says:

We know that hormones and the hypothalamus play a role in controlling appetite and so it would be logical to use the brain as a way of treating obesity.

Up to a third of gastric surgery procedures fail for a variety of reasons and patients do not lose a sufficient amount of weight.
‘Obesity is a disease that kills and we need to be looking constantly for new ways of treating it.

There is no one way that works for everyone and so we need a variety of options. If the trials in the U.S. prove deep brain stimulation safe and effective, I would not have a problem supporting it.

It sounds radical, but I recall people saying that gastric bypass surgery was radical and dramatic when it was first introduced. People questioned whether you should use surgery to treat obesity. Now no one gives it a second thought.’

Although the idea of an electrode implanted into your brain isn’t very exciting this can be a good decision. And there are already a few patients ready to try the technique. Tell us: what do you think of this?

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Mona Liz

Mona Liz is a beauty and healthy lifestyle enthusiast with a passion for writing, music, cats, fitness, and food.

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