Science

Problem gamblers, shopaholics and compulsive eaters could be CURED by zapping brains

Problem gamblers, shopaholics and compulsive eaters could have their brains ‘re-tuned’ by zapping them with electricity, study suggests

  • The non-invasive technique involves placing electrodes on a patient’s scalp
  • The electrodes deliver currents at specific frequencies to ‘re-tune’ brainwaves
  • During tests, the technique reduced obsessive-compulsive behaviours for up to 3 months, with largest improvements in those with the most severe symptoms

Problem gamblers, shopaholics and compulsive eaters could have their brains ‘re-tuned’ by zapping them with electricity, according to new research.

The non-invasive technique involves sending small jolts of electricity to the orbitofrontal cortex – an area of grey matter that slows up in people with addictions.

Researchers hope the unusual technique could open the door to combating a host of obsessive compulsive disorders (OCDs) that affect around one-in-eight people on the planet.  

Problem gamblers, shopaholics and people with eating disorders could be cured – by ‘zapping’ their brains, according to new research (stock image)

HOW DOES IT WORK? 

Called HD-tACS (high-definition transcranial alternating current stimulation), it involves placing electrodes on a patient’s scalp.

Small jolts of electricity are sent to the orbitofrontal cortex – an area of grey matter that slows up in people with addictions. 

They deliver tiny currents at specific frequencies to ‘re-tune’ brainwaves.

The uncontrollable urges can be life-threatening – leading to obesity, substance abuse or financial ruin.

‘This new form of personalised brain modulation may be effective in producing long-lasting benefits in people experiencing distress due to actions such as compulsive eating, gambling and shopping,’ said Dr Robert Reinhart, of Boston University in the US, who authored the study.

Called HD-tACS (high-definition transcranial alternating current stimulation), the therapy involves placing electrodes on a patient’s scalp.

They deliver tiny currents at specific frequencies to ‘re-tune’ brainwaves, explained Dr Reinhart.

His team applied the therapy to 124 volunteers with varying levels of OCD over a period of five days.

After undergoing the sessions, the men and women performed better in a series of laboratory experiments that tested their self-control, such as resisting gambling. 

Dr Reinhart said: ‘It reduced obsessive-compulsive behaviours for up to 3 months – with the largest improvements seen in those with the most severe symptoms.’

The non-invasive technique involves sending small jolts of electricity to the orbitofrontal cortex (pictured in pink on left of diagram) - an area of grey matter that slows up in people with addictions

The non-invasive technique involves sending small jolts of electricity to the orbitofrontal cortex (pictured in pink on left of diagram) – an area of grey matter that slows up in people with addictions

The brain-zapping technique could open the door to combating a host of conditions, including problem-gambling (stock image)

The brain-zapping technique could open the door to combating a host of conditions, including problem-gambling (stock image)

The new treatment opens the door to combating a host of conditions that affect around one-in-eight people on the planet.

Dr Reinhart said: ‘Nearly one billion people worldwide suffer from obsessive–compulsive behaviours, yet our mechanistic understanding of them is incomplete, and effective therapeutics unavailable.

‘They are highly prevalent in the general population and cause significant distress to the individual.’ 

This new form of personalised brain modulation may be effective in producing long-lasting benefits in people experiencing distress due to actions such as compulsive eating, gambling and shopping (stock image)

This new form of personalised brain modulation may be effective in producing long-lasting benefits in people experiencing distress due to actions such as compulsive eating, gambling and shopping (stock image)

Existing treatments such as anti-depressants and other drugs produce disappointing outcomes – and can cause side effects.

Dr Reinhart said: ‘With non-invasive neuromodulation, interventions can be personalised according to individual neurophysiological dynamics.’

Mental health charities have said the number of people seeking help for obsessive compulsive disorders has risen sharply since the pandemic began.

Mental health charities have said the number of people seeking help for obsessive compulsive disorders has risen sharply since the pandemic began (stock image)

Mental health charities have said the number of people seeking help for obsessive compulsive disorders has risen sharply since the pandemic began (stock image)

Dr Reinhart said: ‘At present, our results provide causal evidence for the involvement of the orbitofrontal cortexin obsessive–compulsive behaviours.

‘The frequency-specific effects of neuromodulation provide a mechanistic insight into the neurophysiology that can be targeted for symptom improvement.

‘The personalised neuromodulation design leverages the neuroplastic properties of the brain to produce long-lasting effects via chronic HD-tACS administration.

‘Although we examined a sub-clinical population in the present study, the benefits observed provide motivation for further investigation of personalised neuromodulation as an experimental medicine for clinical obsessive–compulsive spectrum disorders.’ 

The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Advertisement




Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button