Can Brain Stimulation Help People With Anorexia Recover?

A surprising new tool may be useful for relieving major symptoms of anorexia nervosa according to recent research. The study, published in PLoS One, suggests a type of brain stimulation known as repetitive transcranial stimulation (rTMS) may provide relief for the typically hard-to-treat eating disorder.

Brain Activity“With rTMS we targeted … an area of the brain thought to be involved in some of the self-regulation difficulties associated with anorexia,” study first author Jessica McClelland, a postdoctoral researcher at King’s College London, said in a school news release.

The treatment, which has already been approved for treatment of depression, sends magnetic pulses to specific regions of the brain which alter the activity of the nerve cells in the brain. McClelland describes the sensation as being like a gentle tapping on the side of the head.

“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 said.

“Anorexia nervosa is thought to affect up to 4 percent of women in their lifetime. With increasing illness duration, anorexia becomes entrenched in the brain and increasingly difficult to treat. Our preliminary findings support the potential of novel brain-directed treatments for anorexia, which are desperately needed,” study senior author Ulrike Schmidt, a professor from Kings College London, said in the news release.

In the wake of the promising findings, the team of researchers are moving forward with tests to see if brain stimulation can provide long-term benefits for those with anorexia nervosa.

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