Weight Loss Depends on Functioning of Certain Areas of Brain and Not Just Willpower, Finds Study

The study adds credence to the neural theory that people who have a higher neural response to smelling and seeing food, tend to overeat

Scores of people struggle to shed excess pounds and adhere to a healthy lifestyle to keep their weight loss goals alive. However, several people fail. A study by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) has found that the success of weight loss program depends on the functioning of the brain and has less to do with will power.

According to the study, the scientists have identified a new neural subnetwork of connected regions between the brain and gastric basal electric frequency or BER (the polarization of specific cells in the stomach). It corresponds to weight loss in the future depending on the neural connectivity patterns. The findings of the study add credence to the neural theory that people who have a higher neural response to smelling and seeing food, tend to overeat.

"To our surprise, we discovered that while higher executive functions, as measured behaviorally, were dominant factors in weight loss, this was not reflected in patterns of brain connectivity. Consequently, we found that weight loss is not merely a matter of willpower, but is actually connected to much more basic visual and olfactory cues," said Gidon Levakov, lead author of the study, in a statement.

Regulation of Hunger

Representational Picture Pixabay

Basal electric rhythm (BER) refers to the impulsive depolarization and repolarization—changes within cells that lead to a shift in electrical charges—in the pacemaker cells in smooth muscles that line important parts of the digestive tract such as the small intestine, large intestine, and the stomach. Pacemaker cells are those cells that create rhythmic impulses. It is this rhythm that regulates the gastric waves that are linked with hunger and satiety.

There is a prevalent theory that over stimulation or excessive neural response in individuals when they see and smell food causes them to overeat resulting in weight gain. This serves as a hindrance in the weight loss attempts of people who desperately seek to lose excess weight

Monitoring Weight loss

For the study, the authors analyzed 92 individuals over an 18-month lifestyle weight loss intervention. The parameters based on which the participants were chosen included age, large waist circumference, and abnormal blood lipid levels.

Weight Loss
Weight Loss (Representational Picture) Pixabay

Before the commencement of the intervention, the participants undertook an array of behavioral executive function tests and brain imaging scans. After six months of dieting, the weight loss of the participants was measured. According to Prof. Iris Shai who led the intervention, it is mostly within this period that maximum weight loss is usually achieved.

A Link Between the Brain and Weight loss

The authors learned of an association between the stomach basal electric rhythm inside of the subnetwork and weight loss. They discovered that the brain's pericalcarine sulcus—the anatomical site of the primary visual cortex—was the most aroused node within this subnetwork. They also found that the subnetwork of the brain regions communicated more closely with basic sensory and motor regions, instead of higher multi-modal regions of the brain (areas that process information from several senses).

"It appears that visual information may be an important factor triggering eating. This is reasonable, given that vision is the primary sense in humans," explained Prof. Galia Avida, principal investigator of the study. The authors also noted that the results of the study may lead to a better understanding of the underlying factors of obesity and the response mechanism to dieting.