New Study on Brain Stimulation as a Weight Loss Treatment Shows Promise

Healthy Living

January 18, 2016

A small weight loss study conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has been studying the effects of using electrical stimulation of the brain as an intervention treatment for obesity. The study monitored the eating behaviors of study participants after stimulating the left prefrontal cortex of the subject’s brains. Researchers found that the prefrontal cortex stimulation caused people to eat less, reduce their caloric intake of carbonated soft drinks and fatty foods, and hence weight loss.

The lead researcher Marci Gluck, who is an investigator at the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Diseases said, “Brain stimulation appears to be a useful tool for modifying activity of the prefrontal cortex, indicating the importance of mental processes in the development and treatment of obesity.”

Studies that were conducted previously from her laboratory indicated that the left prefrontal cortex brain activity of obese people after eating was recorded at lower levels than those of people who were of normal or lean weight. The prefrontal cortex region of the brain has been connected to behavioral regulation, which is related to the sensory response of taste and reward in the brain. Gluck states, “It is possible that disruption of this area in people who are obese might impair regulation of eating behavior and food choice, so this region might be a potential target for intervention in obesity.”

Does It Really Work?

The study was very limited; but, nine test subjects whom were obese were randomly assigned to receive three treatments of prefrontal stimulation or pseudo (fake, false) stimulation for a total duration of nine days. The study called for the study participants to have unfettered access to vending foods and beverages immediately after each treatment session. And then the same research parameters were repeated for the duration of another nine days and recorded for the results.

The results were identical, with no significant study differences in results or side effects being reported from either the placebo or actual prefrontal cortex stimulation group. Gluck concluded that the study findings could have a pathway to new treatment options for obese patients. However, Gluck also stated, “Unfortunately, there aren’t any gold standard brain-based interventions for obesity and weight loss, but we hope that findings from our study will encourage further research in this area.”

Can the Application be Utilized in Every Day Life?

The answer is yes, in regards to the compartmentalization of addictive behavior where food is concerned. The study has shown obesity can be directly affected by the stimulator; it is a small and portable device that can be utilized in the home, not just in a clinical setting, (doctor’s office or clinic) but also outside of a medical setting. The fact that it could be used in the home as a preventive measure for obese people as a means of habitual prevention can be of tremendous value, much like the light box has been utilized as a treatment for seasonal depression, or medically recognized as “seasonal affective disorder” this new therapy could also be a potential “home therapy” for treatment of obesity.

Is There Scientific Proof of Results?

To date the results are of a very small study group, it is thought that much more scientific research will be needed before the theory will be widely accepted; there is currently a larger study in progress. The “proof of concept” was demonstrated at the meeting of Obesity Week in Los Angles, which was hosted by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, as well as the Obesity Society. To add to the study’s credentials it has also been published in the journal of “Obesity.” It is hypothesized that future studies will prove that an in-home device can be utilized to treat weight related disorders, reducing the epidemic number of obese Americans.

However, there are detractors of this new research. President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine has been highly critical of the study’s findings, stating that the study’s findings are interesting, but not surprising … quote, “All decisions and perceptions are products of the mind, which are in turn products of the brain. Decisions about food are among them.” Katz is adamant that changing your eating habits and remaining physically active is “the” way to overcoming obesity, and brain stimulation is “absurd.”


Since the science is limited and studies are on going it is likely best to rely on what is known, and that is eating a healthy diet and regular daily exercise as a sure method of weight reduction. In the mean time, until there is stronger scientific evidence that will conclusively support and offer to the public electrical prefrontal cortex stimulation your best results today are healthy eating habits and lifestyle will likely lead to healthy weight loss. But, further research in this area may prove very promising for the obese and others with eating disorders.