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Anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that can be very difficult to treat, can cause a number of physical and mental health problems and even lead to death in some cases. A new study found that people who suffer from this eating disorder may benefit from brain stimulation. Transcranial stimulation is a treatment which has received approval for depression, and researchers in Britain evaluated patients who were diagnosed with anorexia nervosa both before and after the patients received the brain stimulation. According to a news release from King’s College London by researcher and first author of the study Jessica McClelland “With rTMS we targeted … an area of the brain thought to be involved in some of the self-regulation difficulties associated with anorexia.” The treatment involves magnetic pulses which are delivered to specific brain areas, and it alters the nerve cell activity in the patient’s brain.

The study on brain stimulation and anorexia nervosa was published in PloS One, a medical journal. McClelland explained “We found that one session of [brain stimulation] reduced the urge to restrict food intake, levels of feeling full and levels of feeling fat, as well as encouraging more prudent decision-making. Taken together, these findings suggest that brain stimulation may reduce symptoms of anorexia by improving cognitive control over compulsive features of the disorder.” Kings College London professor and the senior author of the study Ulrike Schmidt also commented in the news release, stating “Anorexia nervosa is thought to affect up to 4 percent of women in their lifetime. With increasing illness duration, anorexia becomes entrenched in the brain and increasingly difficult to treat. Our preliminary findings support the potential of novel brain-directed treatments for anorexia, which are desperately needed.”