Brain stimulation system shows promise in treating severe anorexia
Researchers say they may have found a way to treat the most severe cases of anorexia be connecting electrodes to very specific areas of the brain.
Before you go imagining old “electro-shock” therapies you’ve seen in horror movies, this system is discreet and non-painful. It requires placing electrodes inside the brain connected to a small battery placed under the skin. The electrodes then stimulate the brain in regions linked to mood, anxiety, motivation, and reward mechanisms.
For the study, researchers from the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, Spain, monitored four patients for a year after implanting the system. Over a period of three months, the device randomly shuts off – unknown to the patients – in order to test the efficacy of the device.
According to the findings, the brain stimulation was effective in three of the four patients, with no adverse side effects.
In a report from Corporació Catalana de Mitjans Audiovisuals, one of the patients treated by the doctors said she had lived with an eating disorder from the age of 14 to 41-years-old and had not eaten solid food in three years. After having the device implanted, she said she has been able to eat solid food again and has eaten seafood for the first time in her life.
As it requires a surgical procedure, the brain stimulation system is not intended for most individuals with eating disorders. It is aimed at those with severe cases who have been resistant to other treatment. To be included in the study, a participant had to have been living with extreme anorexia for over a decade and have a body mass index between 13 and 16 – a very low BMI.
According to Dr. Victor Pérez, head of the psychiatry service at Hospital del Mar, and director of the Institute of Neuropsychiatry and Addictions, brain stimulation also improved symptoms of depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behavior linked to anorexia.