Robyn Baldwin had already been fighting her weight for decades when she decided to have a brain implant to help her overcome her overwhelming need to overeat.
Baldwin says, “I have always been huge my entire life.” Baldwin is 58 years old and resides in Citrus Heights, California.
“The term “grazer” has always described how I eat. In such a case, I would eat continuously. Looking back, and I can’t believe how awful of a binge-eater I was.”
CREDIT: Robyn Baldwin
She reached her maximum weight of 332 pounds in 2003 and ultimately had gastric bypass surgery to manage her extreme obesity.
Baldwin successfully lost weight, shedding roughly 130 pounds and keeping them off for an extended period (about seven years).
However, she could not handle the burden of being her husband’s primary carer and her full-time government analyst job when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Again, she started binge eating and quickly regained her weight. Baldwin says they would eat ice cream until he is ill since he loves it so much. “I have a severe pasta addiction. If I prepare a huge bowl, I can sit before the stove and eat a whole pot of spaghetti.”, she confessed.
According to the authors of recent research, even weight-loss surgery can’t always curb such powerful cravings and the insatiable drive to keep eating.
Binge-eating disorder, which affects up to 3% of individuals in the United States, is indicated when binges occur repeatedly. Baldwin says it was “simple” for him to binge multiple times a week.
Dr Casey Halpern, research co-author and head of stereotactic and functional neurosurgery at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, says, “Many (weight-loss surgery) patients still suffer these everlasting cravings to overeat.
We think these patients lack the self-control to manage their behaviour, not because they’re weak, but because their brain’s circuits for exercising self-control aren’t working correctly.”
Halpern and his colleagues think a deep brain stimulation device, currently used to regulate the tremors of Parkinson’s illness and the convulsions of epilepsy, may assist those who lose control around food by focusing on these circuits.
To determine whether or not this was the case, a pilot study was conducted with Baldwin and another lady who also suffered from a binge eating disorder.
According to Halpern, the gadget is implanted by creating a small incision in the patient’s skull and inserting tiny wires into the nucleus accumbens, a location deep in the brain that serves as a crucial hub of rewards circuits.
A simulator, similar to a computer chip, is implanted under the scalp in the skull, and cables that lead to it. To assist patients in recovering control over their eating habits, the device administers a mild electrical current to the brain whenever it recognises hunger signals.
Baldwin claims that she was not worried about the upcoming procedure in July 2020.
While physicians monitored her brain activity, she was awake and alert in response to images of her reported favorite binge foods, such as crème Brulee, Taco Bell meals, and peanut butter M&Ms.
In response to seeing images of food, “we were able to activate desire cells in the nucleus accumbens and hear their signal,” explains Halpern.
Usually, the accumbens nucleus is “extremely quiet. In contrast, if you prod it, you’ll hear “activated cells” as the cells’ electric charge shifts.
When Baldwin saw images of food she found unappealing, this group of cells did not become active
. It proved as Halpern says, that physicians had located the optimal region in her brain for controlling her desires. After that, the stimulator was set up to stop these desires to binge eat.
You Won’t Get Hungry Thinking About Ice Cream Anymore.
To eliminate the chances of a placebo effect, physicians did not switch on the device immediately after implantation and did not inform the ladies when it would be activated.
After it was switched on permanently, Baldwin saw a change immediately.
“No specific foods were calling to me, and I didn’t feel hungry. “I wasn’t consuming excessive amounts of anything,” she claims.
“Now, I don’t find myself as preoccupied with thoughts of food as much as I used to. In other words, it’s not an all-consuming line of thinking.”
‘Now “I can add “Hey, I forgot to have lunch today” to my lexicon when it previously did not exist.’
Instead of “being a hobbit and eating a first breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, and lunch,” as Baldwin put it, she now has a typical breakfast.
She can have just a little ice cream and quit before becoming nauseous.
She reports being aware of a raised lump on her head where the implant is located but not the zap of electricity interrupting the impulses driving her cravings.
CREDIT: Robyn Baldwin
According to Halpern, “we’re delivering a degree of stimulation that is so minimal that they can’t detect it,” but the circuits in their brains do.
Since the beginning of the research, Baldwin has dropped 35 pounds and says she plans to keep losing weight and keeping the implant.
Halpern notes that the study’s second female participant is likewise pleased with her weight loss and eager to use the gadget.
While Baldwin admits, “I’m never going to be one of those guys who say ‘I love kale’ because that’s not going to happen,” he does acknowledge that the experience has altered his relationship with food.
I know that fighting my weight will be an ongoing struggle, and I know this is not a panacea. This is simply another tool in my toolbox, and it’s proving useful.
Due to the small sample size (n=2), more investigation into this strategy is needed. Halpern and his coworkers are now recruiting for a clinical experiment that requires four participants.
They are looking for persons who are obese, have had weight reduction surgery no less than two years ago, and still struggle to maintain control when it comes to eating.
To get FDA clearance, a larger multicenter trial with 40–100 participants is possible. Halpern is optimistic about the possibility, even if it is still some time away.
Aside from helping those with obesity, “if this proved successful for individuals with obesity who suffered from these sorts of food cravings, surely we could apply it to other mental issues like addiction and alcoholism,” he adds.