Not just diets, drugs and scalpels. The battle against obesity is also fought with mini brain shakes. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTms), a non-invasive and painless technique, is the solution found by the study of researchers at the Policlinico di San Donato, led by Livio Luzi, to reduce hunger. A study that demonstrated its effectiveness and safety as an adjunct in the treatment of obesity. We talked about it with Dr. Giuseppe Marinari, head of bariatric surgery at Humanitas.
Reducing hunger: weight reduced by more than 8% with a new technique
The study involved about 50 patients, 33 of whom were followed for more than a year, and administered 15 stimulation sessions 3 times a week for 5 weeks, showing very significant weight loss and body mass index reduction, averaging 8.4% of initial body weight. Almost nine kilos separate patients who underwent transcranial magnetic stimulation from the control group, with stable effects throughout the year of follow-up. The research does not come from nothing: the same group had already reported in several international congresses both the effectiveness of deep transcranial magnetic stimulation in modifying intestinal bacteria, the so-called “microbiota”, favoring weight loss in obese subjects, and the validity of the same technique in reducing the urgent desire for food thanks to the regulatory action exerted on the brain mechanisms involved in the gratification associated with food intake.
Hunger, on what does it depend?
“We know that hunger is regulated by factors related to our choices and our metabolism – explains Luzi, head of the area of Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases of the hospital and Professor of Endocrinology at the University of Milan – but we also know that in abnormal eating habits are involved some dysfunctions in the brain circuits of the reward, modulated by dopamine. dTms is already being used with good results in the neurological field to modulate the dopaminergic system in neuropsychiatric diseases such as major depression and addictions (from nicotine, alcohol and cocaine) – our hypothesis was that it could also be used to reduce the desire for food, thus supporting the “classic” behavioral therapies for weight loss, focused on physical activity and diet”. This new study is the starting-point for a highly innovative, non-pharmacological, non-invasive, low-cost and repeatable approach to treating obese people and, hopefully, in the not too distant future, also to prevent the development of obesity in the highest risk age group, i.e. adolescents. Luzi’s research group is in fact committed to experimenting with other types of brain stimulation that are even easier to use – for example, electric micro-currents – always aimed at modulating, in a non-invasive way, the brain circuits involved in the regulation of both metabolic and voluptuous hunger”.
The word of Humanitas
“The illustrated therapy has its own charm, but there are some things to observe – commented the specialist -. When we talk about making an obese person lose 8% of the total weight we are not talking about obesity therapy but overweight, or “palliative therapy”. If a person weighs 120 kilos or more, what is the point of losing 9-10 kilos? Certainly to make people feel better, but not to heal them from their problem: if I weigh 120 and after any therapy I lost 9-10 kilos my obesity is still there. Even the few drugs currently permitted in Italy and Europe in general offer the same results, and conservative therapy in general (diet + physical activity + any psychotherapy) provides a decrease of 5-10% in weight. In short, it does not seem to me that this therapy has an extra gear compared to what is available.
Another issue if we think of a possible form of prevention of obesity applied to the first onset of overweight: this could be a very interesting field of application, although I understand that studies in this direction have not yet been done”.