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New treatment for patients with eating disorders shows promise

Posted on 06-22-16 in Eating Disorders, Research, Treatment

New treatment for patients with eating disorders shows promise

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), like other brain stimulation techniques, is a novel, noninvasive treatment that directly stimulates specific areas of the brain through the use of a constant, mild current. Patients receive a low intensity current via electrodes placed over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — an area of the brain believed to be important for executive function and working memory.

Brain stimulation techniques utilize electric currents or impulses to make long-lasting changes to specific areas of the brain. In recent years, researchers have investigated the use of different types of brain stimulation techniques, including transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), for treating patients who have eating disorders.

As eating disorders have high rates of relapse and are more difficult to treat, psychological therapies are not usually effective for people who have anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. However, the evidence supporting the efficacy of treating patients with rTMS and other brain stimulation techniques is highly promising.

By targeting the neural activity in this area of the brain, it is believed that the use of tDCS can be effective for decreasing food intake and cravings and ameliorating emotional dysregulation, depression and impulsiveness in patients with eating disorders.

tDCS reduces food cravings and food intake among patients with tDCS, study finds

The effect of tDCS on reducing food intake, cravings, desire to binge-eat and frequency of binge-eating among patients who were in treatment for binge eating disorder (BED) was recently investigated by Mary M. Boggiano, Ph.D., and her colleagues from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Twenty female and 10 male adults from the UAB, who met the criteria for binge eating disorder (BED) or subclinical BED (i.e., they met all criteria for BED except the frequency of binge episodes per week), were administered a “real” tDCS (2 milliampere (mA) session for 20 minutes) and a “sham” condition (2 mA current during the first 2 minutes and last minute of a 20-minute session).

The researchers found that stimulating the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was effective for enhancing cognitive control and decreased the need for reward among both men and women with BED. Compared to the sham treatment, tDCS was effective for reducing food cravings, with the greatest decrease in food cravings among men.

In addition, both men and women experienced a decrease in total and preferred food intake of 11 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively, during the tDCS condition. The researchers concluded that their results supported the use of repeated tDCS as an adjunct to treatment for patients with BED. This study was the first to find that tDCS of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex could be effective for helping to treat patients with BED.

The Sovereign Health Group provides comprehensive and individualized behavioral health treatment services to women and adolescent girls who have eating disorders as well as to patients with substance use, mental health and co-occurring disorders. To find out more about the treatment programs offered at Sovereign Health, please contact our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.

About the author

Amanda Habermann is a writer for the Sovereign Health Group. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. She brings to the team her background in research, testing and assessment, diagnosis and recovery techniques. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at