'Tricking The Brain' To Lose Weight

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Weight Loss Program

The search for a 'magic bullet' to cure obesity intensified recently, when a team of British researchers announced they may have found a new hormone treatment that controls appetite by alerting the brain that the stomach is full.

Members of a small study trial who were given injections of the digestive hormone oxyntomodulin before meals lost an average of four times more weight in one month than participants who were not given the hormone. Researchers found no negative side effects to the oxyntomodulin treatments. Participants who received the medication reported a decrease in appetite but no reduction in their enjoyment of food.

Martin Binks, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and director of behavioral health at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, said this biological approach to weight loss works by, in effect, tricking the brain at the source of satiety signals: the stomach.

"This particular line of research is working on a signaling system that's within the stomach and seems to be related to hunger, fullness and satiety. Such preliminary findings lead to the hope that we might someday be able to manipulate the levels of hunger and fullness that are experienced by a person, so the brain would actually believe the person is less hungry."

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Binks says pharmaceutical treatments alone seldom yield long-term success and work best when used as one component of a multi-disciplinary strategy.

"Typically, in the pharmaceutical trials, you will see an initial weight loss over a six-month period and then a plateau-ing or a re-gain. There are studies on various types of pharmaceuticals showing that in combination with effective multi-dimensional lifestyle change, including good nutrition, exercise and behavioral intervention, that effect can be improved. The benefits of combining treatments are being looked at much more seriously now.

"At the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, we make a wide range of recommendations to patients," Binks continued "They will include for some patients the exploration of surgery as an option, or the exploration of pharmaceutical additions to the program. But the basis of our program is to help people adopt healthier behavioral lifestyle habits. It's as simple as 'move more, consume less,' but as anybody who has struggled with difficult-to-change behavior knows, it's not that simple. We teach people to set the kinds of goals they can achieve, to enjoy the progress they're making, and to build their confidence in being able to follow healthier habits.

"The commercial diet industry has made a living for many years selling things that appear to be miracle cures. The more responsible pharmaceutical industry and the non-commercial weight control agencies have always tried to push the idea that it's not a simple solution, there isn't a magic bullet and to caution people that there likely never will be a magic bullet for this, because it's not one thing that's going on.

"I think that weight loss has been subject to this notion that there's one answer, that it's either the right nutritional combination or it's the right pharmaceutical combination. It really isn't. It has to be attacked from all directions, based on individual needs."

Duke Health Briefs

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