Hope for Troublesome Weight Loss: Freezing the ‘Hunger Nerve’

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By freezing the “hunger nerve,” doctors may have discovered the secret to the body’s natural “revenge” on caloric restriction.

Losing weight can be difficult, and keeping it off even more so. Our bodies naturally punish us for drastically altering our diets, making us hungrier and trying to conserve weight it believes will protect us from starvation. Because of that, there is a real biological resistance to the obesity crisis in the modern world — and perhaps nowhere more so than the United States.

Harvard School of Public Health Department of Nutrition’s chair, Dr. Frank Hu, is discouraged by the news. “It’s difficult to be optimistic at this point,” he said. “The trend of obesity has been steadily increasing in both children and adults despite many public health efforts to improve nutrition and physical activity.” He blames the “huge amount of cheap, accessible, highly processed food available everywhere almost anytime,” and a marked decrease in activity levels both at home and at work.

But help may very well come from within, and the solution could be to simply prevent the body’s natural self-sabotage. By freezing the posterior vagal trunk nerve — a branch of the same nerve that controls our hearts, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract — doctors have been able to effectively shut down the mechanism which causes the compulsion to eat.

In a small study by Dr. David Prologo and his associates at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, researchers employed a very simple surgical procedure in which a probe was inserted in the patient’s back to freeze the posterior vagal trunk for just two minutes. Eight women and two men were tested, this time merely to see whether the procedure had any unforeseen negative side effects or complications.

No patient experienced any negative effects by either the 45-day or 90-day checkups, and the results of the procedure itself were promising. “I had struggled with weight since my 6-year-old was born … and I’m constantly rebounding [with various weight-loss programs],” said Melissa, one of the ten subjects. After the procedure, she was “literally never hungry.” Furthermore, she said, “I’m not eating because I’m bored. It’s gradually coming off, so now I know it’s not going to come right back on like all the previous diets that I’ve tried.”

Whether or not this procedure has any longer-term detriments remains to be seen, as well as whether it is an effective solution for the nation’s deadliest health crisis. With a lot more study and a little more luck, it might be the best chance yet for those who struggle with maintaining a happy, healthy natural weight.

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