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Brain Stimulation for Decreased Food Intake

Food intake feeds into obesity. The behavior of food intake is a complex balance between multiple brain regions. The hypothalamus is the main “appetite center” and plays a role by receiving hormonal signals from the other organs. The brain also contributes to food intake in humans, as humans can dictate when the begin consumption. The two main areas in the brain suspected to influence hunger are the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the orbitofrontal contex and aneriorcingulate cortex (don’t worry there is no test on these regions). Diminished activation of the DLFPC has been associated with a reduced ability to control food over-consumption.

Anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of the brain is a noninvasive method of stimulating specific brain regions. In fact, studies are recently analyzing the effects of tDCS of the right DLPFC for 20 minutes and the effects of food intake! Just imagine, you want to decrease your food intake and you can simply go to a psychiatrist (perhaps a Physical Therapist, we perform electrical stimulation…) and have a region of your brain activated for 20 minutes a day! The current of the tDCS was 1 mA, a relatively small current. Before we jump on the bandwagon, we need to see if tDCS works for food intake!

So, the study gave participants either a sham tDCS or an actual tDCS before letting the participants hit a buffet of various foods. The researchers then monitored food intake and surveyed the participants on how hungry and full they felt. This was performed for 8 days. 

The results showed no difference in food intake for day 1, but after 8 days the total calories consumed was 14.2% in the tDCS than the sham group! Carbohydrates were consumed much less compared to the other foods, contributing to the decreased caloric intake! On day 1, there were no differences between appetite levels for savory foods. However, there was a significant decrease in appetite for foods at the end of the study. There was no change in body weight between groups before or after the eight day study. 

So … What are the Side effects of tDCS

There were some side effects, like skin redness, tingling, itchiness, and skin burning. However, itching and redness were also present in the sham participants.

Now What?

Overall, it seems tDCS appears to significantly reduce calorie and carbohydrate intake. However, the long-term effects of this protocol and the side effects suggest this protocol should only be used when necessary. 

More realistic management of food intake is through lifestyle modification. At COR, we manage a lot of clients with increased food intake during our boot camp consultations or individualized personal training sessions. 

  1. Jauch-Chara K, Kistenmacher A, Herzog N, Schwarz M, Schweiger U, Oltmanns KM. Repetitive electric brain stimulation reduces food intake in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Aug 6. pii: ajcn.075481. [Epub ahead of print]

 Written by Dr. G. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS