‘Tricking the Brain’ to Lose Weight
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."
Binks says pharmaceutical treatments alone seldom yield
long-term success and work best when used as one component of a
"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."