Can Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Curb Overeating?

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Can Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Curb Overeating?
Can Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Curb Overeating?

Noninvasive brain stimulation — specifically transcranial direct current stimulation — may offer a novel approach to treating obesity, researchers reported at ObesityWeek 2015.

The technique can be a useful tool for modifying activity of the prefrontal cortex that may help decrease caloric intake and promote weight loss. Additionally, transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) is attractive because it has few side effects, noted study investigator Marci E. Gluck, PhD.

“Just as the light box became a home intervention for treating seasonal affective disorder, [transcranial direct current stimulation] potentially could be used at home to treat weight-related disorders,” said Dr. Gluck, who is the director of behavioral sciences at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) in Phoenix.

Study Findings

Dr. Gluck, who presented the findings at the meeting, and colleagues studied 9 men and women with obesity who resided in the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch's metabolic ward on 2 separate 9-day visits.

On each visit, the participants ate a weight-maintaining diet for 5 days. Then for 3 days, they unknowingly received either active or sham TDCS. Participants ate and drank as much as they wanted from computerized vending machines. Applied to the scalp, the active TDCS targeted the brain region controlling behavior and reward. 

The 4 individuals who underwent the sham stimulation during both visits consumed the same number of calories from the vending machines on each visit and did not lose weight, according to the study results. In contrast, the 5 individuals who underwent 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 0.8 lb on the second visit.

“Previous studies from our lab at the NIDDK in Phoenix observed lower levels of activation in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex after a meal in obese compared with lean humans using [positron emission tomography]. This brain region has been linked to behavioral regulation, taste, and reward processing. The prefrontal cortex, and the dorsolateral sectors in particular play an important role in the organization and planning of behavior,” said Dr. Gluck.

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