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Experimental Weight Loss Treatment Involves Freezing 'Hunger' Nerves

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A team of researchers found a novel way of trying to suppress hunger by actually freezing the nerve which signals hunger in the brain. The unusual procedure is so far effective and considered safe and feasible in its pilot phase.

Nerve Freeze

At the recent Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology, a team of researchers presented their findings regarding a painless, experimental treatment to help patients with mild to moderate obesity lose weight. The successful results of the study show perhaps another effective method of weight loss that does not involve invasive surgery or intense diet.

To test the treatment, researchers gathered 10 participants with obesity, all of whom had a body mass index that lies between 30 and 37, and all also unqualified for other weight loss procedures such as the gastric bypass surgery.

After each of the participants were sedated, researchers inserted a needle through the patient's back and with the help of a CT scan,  guided the needle to freeze the posterior vagal trunk using argon gas. The posterior vagal trunk is found at the base of the esophagus and is believed to be one of the important mechanisms that signal the brain when the stomach is empty.

90-Day Weight Loss

After the procedure, the participants were followed and monitored for 90 days, wherein all of the participants reported decreased appetites. In fact, from day seven of the follow-up until the 90th day, 100 percent of participants reported the decrease.

Amazingly, by the end of the 90-day follow-up, the participants had an average of 3.6 percent weight-loss and 12.9 percent decrease in body mass index. Further, there were no reported procedure-related complications and no reported negative effects for the duration of the follow-up. As such, at least for the pilot phase of the study, the procedure is considered effective and safe.


According to the researchers, current medical literature shows that most weight-loss procedures fail especially if it involves reducing food intake. That said, this treatment could significantly help individuals who are trying to lose weight by diet management.

"When our stomachs are empty, the body senses this and switches to food-seeking survival mode. We're not trying to eliminate this biological response, only reduce the strength of this signal to the brain to provide a new, sustainable solution to the difficult problem of treating mild obesity," said David Prologo, M.D., FSIR, ABOM-D of Emory University School of Medicine, lead author of the study.

However, the solution is not a permanent one as the nerve regrows by a millimeter per day and could likely grow back in full in about 12 months. Still, with the success of the pilot phase, follow-up trials with more participants are expected to be conducted.

Obesity In The United States

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over a third of Americans have obesity. Because of its prevalence among the public and its potential risks for obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer, researchers are continuous in their study to find potential treatments.

So far, intense diets and procedures such as the gastric bypass surgery remain to be some of the most popular weight-loss procedures, and an anti-obesity drug has been developed to reduce weight without dieting or reducing food intake.  

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