Scientists create electrical switch that could turn off food cravings, study says

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Scientists create electrical switch that could turn off food cravings, study says

Wish you could better nip your food cravings? You may be able to do that thanks to an electrical surge that could reverse your impulses, a new report says.

Researchers from Stanford University recently conducted an experiment, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, to determine how electricity can alter the area of the brain that controls impulsive behavior.

To do so, they identified the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s reward circuitry. It induces pleasure from actions like food, sex, sleep and defenses again predators or rivals. 

Next, they created electrode arrays that would deliver 10-second pulses of electrical currents to the brains of mice. Each time the animals, which were taught to binge eat fatty foods, moved toward high-fat pellets, the scientists would zap them. 

Over time, scientists observed a decline in binge behavior and noted that the shocks did not affect their social lives or general physical behavior.

“We’ve identified a real-time biomarker for impulsive behavior,” coauthor Casey Halpern said in a statement. “There’s no available responsive neurostimulation intervention for dangerous impulsive behavior yet, because until now no one’s been able to document a characteristic signature in the brain that could be used for triggering pulse delivery by the device.”

After monitoring the success of the mice, they examined a human with obsessive compulsive disorder, who was anticipating a cash reward with the push of button. Analysts recognized the similar brain patterns in the patient that they saw in the mice. 

“The fact that we saw a similar signal prior to two different behaviors, both intended to obtain rewards — food in the case of mice, money in the case of the human subject...suggests that this signal may be common to many impulsive behaviors, making them amenable to treatment along similar lines,” Halpern said.

Researchers now hope to test their methods on human food cravings and other impulses that could be harmful to our bodies. 

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