The non-invasive technique can reduce key symptoms of the eating disorder bulimia nervosa, including the urge to binge-eat and restrict food intake, scientists have said.
Bulimia is characterised by a vicious cycle of repeated obsessive eating and vomiting, extreme dieting, or the misuse of medicines. Binge-eating can be treated by electrically stimulating specific parts of the brain, research has shown.
Binge-eating can be treated by electrically stimulating specific parts of the brain, research has shown.
For the study, 39 sufferers of the disorder underwent a procedure called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) which uses electrodes placed on the head to stimulate targeted brain regions. The results were compared with those from a placebo "dummy" treatment. Bulimia symptoms were significantly reduced by the "real" tDCS therapy, which lowered scores on a scale measuring the urge to binge-eat by 31%. Lead researcher Dr Maria Kekic, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College, London, said: "Our study suggests that a non-invasive brain stimulation technique suppresses the urge to binge eat and reduces the severity of other common symptoms in people with bulimia nervosa, at least temporarily. "We think it does this by improving cognitive control over compulsive features of the disorder. "Although these are modest, early findings, there is a clear improvement in symptoms and decision-making abilities following just one session of tDCS. "With a larger sample and multiple sessions of treatment over a longer period of time, it is likely that the effects would be even stronger. This is something we're now looking to explore in future studies." The findings are published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE. Bulimia typically emerges in adolescence and is much more likely to develop in women. It is thought that up to 2% of women experience the disorder at some stage in their life. The condition is associated with multiple medical complications and up to 4% of sufferers die prematurely. Whilst existing treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are effective for many people with bulimia, they do not help a substantial proportion.