The most common eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, that is found to affect 4% of women in their lifetime can be treated by stimulating the brain, reveals a new study.
The study conducted by British researchers from the King's College of London have examined whether repetitive transcranial stimulation (rTMS), a commonly used treatment of depression, could have any effect on the symptoms of anorexia.
‘Repetitive transcranial stimulation (rTMS), a kind of non-invasive brain stimulation might be able to alleviate symptoms of anorexia nervosa.’
Anorexia is characterized by compulsive eating behaviors of starvation, purging and binging on food. It has the highest mortality rates when compared to other eating disorders as the affected people are more prone to suicidal tendencies.
Researchers recruited 49 anorexic patients who were subjected to food exposure and decision-making activities before and after one session of rTMS. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE
The food exposure test was to trigger symptoms of anorexia. Film clips featuring food items was showed for two minutes to the participants and were asked to rate their food cravings based on its smell, taste and appearance.
In the decision-making test, participants were asked to choose between two sums of money, a smaller amount available immediately versus a larger amount that would be given only after a subsequent period, like a week or a month.
After several sessions, they found that stimulation of a brain region called dorsolateral prefrontal cortex using rTMS was able to regulate the symptoms of anorexia.
"With rTMS we targeted ... an area of the brain thought to be involved in some of the self-regulation difficulties associated with anorexia. The treatment delivers magnetic pulses to specific areas of the brain. It feels like a gentle tapping sensation on the side of the head. The treatment alters the activity of the nerve cells in the brain," said study first author Jessica McClelland, a postdoctoral researcher at King's College London.
"We found that one session of [brain stimulation] reduced the urge to restrict food intake, levels of feeling full and levels of feeling fat, as well as encouraging more prudent decision-making. Taken together, these findings suggest that brain stimulation may reduce symptoms of anorexia by improving cognitive control over compulsive features of the disorder," McClelland added.