What if a damaged brain circuit is the source of an uncontrolled drive to consume a huge quantity of food in a short length of time? People who have binge eating disorder, which is a mental diagnosis, may not be any more to blame for their excessive eating if this is the case than a patient with Parkinson’s disease may be for their tremors.
Because of this question, medical professionals decided to experiment with a brand-new therapy that was unlike anything that had before been tried to assist patients suffering from this prevalent but underreported eating problem. According to Dr. Casey Halpern, a neurosurgeon at the University of Pennsylvania, at least 3 percent of the population is affected by this condition.
Deep brain stimulation is a technique that is often used to treat Parkinson’s disease patients who are experiencing tremors. He and his colleagues came to the conclusion that they should give it a go. The process entails implanting electrodes into the brain in order to control abnormal impulses. Under the scalp, where they are both undetectable and inconspicuous, the wires are positioned such that they are linked to the electrodes. Only when it detects a signal to begin a binge does the gadget begin to stimulate neurons. This is how the therapy for binge eating works.
In 2003, she had bariatric surgery, which is often performed to change the digestive system in such a way that the stomach is shrunk and food is more difficult to digest after the procedure. It has been successful for many individuals when other weight loss strategies were unsuccessful. But unfortunately for Ms. Baldwin, the weight that she had lost eventually crept back on.
In her situation, as well as in Ms. Baldwin’s, it was true. Their binge eating is not what the majority of people understand to be binge eating, which is when someone periodically begins eating a bag of chips or a gallon of ice cream and continues eating until they are completely full. Instead, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) includes information on their condition. Binge eating occurs numerous times each week in this method. Binge eating is characterised with the sensation of being virtually in another state, in which the individual loses all control over their eating and consumes massive quantities of food very rapidly. Because they are ashamed of their habit, many people binge behind closed doors. When the binge is over, it is typical to feel disgusted and ashamed of oneself.
The symptoms of certain of these conditions may be controlled by specific brain circuits, which the researchers have identified to be located in regions of the brain that are often less than a millimetre in diameter. These observations pave the door for further investigations into deep brain stimulation.
Dr. Halpern, together with Ms. Baldwin and Ms. Tolly, served as the leaders of the pilot trial. But initially, he and his colleagues started with mice that had a predisposition toward becoming overweight. The animals had already been fed, but as soon as the researchers placed butter in their cage, they gobbled it, consuming more than 25 percent of their daily calorie allotment in only one hour.
The nucleus accumbens, a critical hub of the brain’s reward system that is situated deep in the centre of the brain, was the region of their brains that became active after being exposed to the stimuli. When mice were about to indulge in a binge, neurons in the nucleus accumbens were activated. Deep brain stimulation was effective in reducing the activity of the neurons in question, which allowed the researchers to stop the mice from binge eating.
The researchers determined that neurons were firing shortly before the binge and that those electrical impulses were connected with the women experiencing a lack of control. They did this by recording electrical impulses in the nucleus accumbens of the women while they ate. The impulses may have been intercepted by a direct brain stimulator, which would then have prevented the ladies from feeling the need to binge eat.
After the devices were implanted into the brains of the women, the investigators informed Ms. Baldwin and Ms. Tolly that they would activate the devices at some point over the following couple of months but that they would not disclose the specific day or time. Both of the ladies said that they were aware right away once the gadgets were turned on. They said that all of a sudden, they did not have the same overwhelming need to eat.
Ms. Baldwin said that she has observed a shift in the foods that she like to eat. She used to eat peanut butter straight from the jar with a spoon since she was such a fan of the spread.