Can Deep Brain Stimulation Cure Eating Disorders?

Scientists in Canada tested the so-called brain pacemakers on six patients, with positive results in some.

So-called brain pacemakers have already shown promise in Parkinson's patients, people with major depression and, more recently, people with OCD, but now doctors think it could help patients suffering from severe anorexia. As reported by NPR Friday, a small study published in the journal Lancet this week, neurosurgeons in Toronto tested the deep brain stimulation in six patients with severe and recurring anorexia.

The results? Four of the six patients showed improvement in mood, anxiety, affective regulation, and anorexia nervosa-related obsessions and compulsions. And after nine months, three of the six patients showed an improvement in their body mass index. However, the study showed there were many side effects, including one serious seizure. Other patients suffered from a panic attack during surgery, nausea, air embolus, and pain.

The patients, according to NPR, all were encouraged to continue therapy and other treatments after the surgery. And while it could be promising for the future, neurologist Nir Lipsman, who led the study told NPR it wasn't there yet.

"This is a brain surgery – there's no sugarcoating that," he told NPR. "The primary objective of this study was to establish that this a safe procedure for these patients who have been quite ill before the surgery. That's all we can say right now."

[Photo by Flickr user collective nouns]

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