A team of scientists from the Society for Interventional Radiology has presented a new way to combat obesity. Scientists are confident that freezing the vagus nerve will help with this.
Let us explain that we are talking about the tenth pair of cranial nerves (there are 12 in total), which goes from the brain to the abdominal cavity. The vagus nerve provides communication of various organs with the central nervous system - these are the organs of the head, neck, chest and abdominal cavities. Including the stomach.
It is through the vagus nerve that "hungry" signals are sent to the brain in the form of a tiny electrical impulse, due to which a person begins to absorb food. In people who are overweight or obese, these nerve signals are overactive, the researchers note.
Therefore, they are developing various ways to influence the vagus nerve. For example, in 2015, a special electronic implant was created for this.
The new idea is the controlled shutdown of the vagus nerve using freezing. After the first phase of testing, the new method was found to be safe and effective.
“We developed this treatment for mild to moderate obesity patients. We are trying to help people succeed in their attempts to lose weight,” explains lead author, radiologist David Prologo of Emory University School of Medicine in the US.
His team's study involved ten people with a body mass index from 30 to 37 (according to existing standards, with a BMI of 30 to 35, the patient is diagnosed with first degree obesity, and with a BMI of 35 to 40 - second degree obesity).
All volunteers underwent a nerve freezing procedure, which takes about 25 minutes and is as follows. The specialist inserts the needle into the patient's back and, guided by the images that are displayed on a computer tomograph, through this needle, argon is injected into the posterior trunk of the vagus nerve, an inert gas that causes numbness in a specific area.
The authors emphasize that this method does not completely suppress the "hungry" signal, but only weakens it, blocking only half of the transmission channels. That is, patients still feel the feeling of hunger, just not as often and not as strong as before.
Observations of the participants, which were conducted within 90 days after the procedure, confirmed this. All patients reported decreased appetite, and their average weight loss was 3.6% of initial body weight and almost 14% of excess BMI.
Nobody reported any complications or side effects.
"The vast majority of weight loss programs fail, especially when people try to reduce food intake. When our stomachs are empty, the body senses this and switches to" survival mode ", that is, starts looking for food. We are not trying to eliminate this biological response, but only reduce the strength of this signal to provide a new solution to a complex problem,”explains Prologo.
According to the researchers' plan, by the time the vagus nerve regains full functionality, a person will have formed new eating habits, he will have time to lose weight and will no longer feel hunger as often as with obesity. But these assumptions have yet to be tested.
The team is now recruiting a large group of patients to conduct clinical trials of the new method. The authors have to prove its long-term efficacy, as well as safety, since the observation period for the first group of patients was still rather short.
The specialists spoke about the results of their work at the annual meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology.
By the way, it was previously proven that an injection of a protein that reduces appetite and a hormone that blocks cravings for sweets, and at the same time for alcohol, will also help accelerate weight loss.