LONDON – A small study with 16 people with severe anorexia has been found that the implantation of the stimulation electrodes in the brains of patients can ease their anxiety and help them to weight.
The researchers found that in the extreme cases of the eating disorder, the technique – known as deep brain stimulation (DBS) – helped many of those studied to reduce the symptoms of both anxiety or depression, and an improvement of their quality of life.
A few months later, the improvement of the psychological symptoms began to lead to changes in the weight, the researchers said that the average body mass index (BMI) of the group to increase to 17.3 – an increase of 3.5 points in the course of the study.
Anorexia is a serious eating disorder that affects approximately 0.5 percent of the people worldwide, the majority of them teenage girls. Patients with persistent concerns about their weight, shape and size, and starve themselves to maintain a low weight.
Chronic anorexia can be fatal, and in many cases caused serious health problems, including weak bones and muscles, sexual problems, infertility, heart problems and epilepsy.
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The scientists who led the study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal on Friday, said their results suggest deep brain stimulation involving the implantation of electrodes to stimulate areas of your brain that is the control of dysfunctional behavior can change the brain circuits that drive anorexia.
DBS is already used for the purpose of the brain circuits involved in Parkinson’s disease and tremors – and demonstrated that it is very effective in reducing symptoms.
In this trial, 16 women between the ages of 21 and 57, who had anorexia and an average of 18 years of age and severely underweight, with an average body mass index of 13.8 – were selected. They were chosen because all other treatments had not worked and their life is in danger from the disorder. A healthy range for BMI is 18.5 to 24.9.
Comparing brain scans from before and after the treatment, the researchers found there were changes in regions linked to anorexia, which suggests that DBS was able to directly influence the related brain circuits. This included less activity in the putamen, thalamus, cerebellum, among other areas, the scientists said, and more activity in the peripheral cortical areas that are also linked to social perception and behavior.
Andres Lozano, a professor at the canadian University of Toronto, who led the study, said that while the results showed some early promise, more research would be needed.
“Anorexia remains the psychiatric disorder with the highest mortality (death), and there is an urgent need to develop safe, effective, evidence-driven treatments that are informed by a growing understanding of the brain circuits,” he said.
(Editing by Alison Williams)