Having personal experience of obesity, I am more than aware of the issues with the oft-repeated mantra “eat less, move more”. Let me tell you – this does not work for many individuals. Weight management is a constant and enduring battle that isn’t cured by simply eating less food or being more physically active. Sustained, healthy weight loss requires great effort which often goes against much of what is uncontrollable in our lives, such as regulating parts of our brain that are beyond our conscious control and release signals telling you to eat.
That’s where my research comes in – exploring a novel treatment option to help individuals better manage their eating behaviour. In particular, we are interested in changing the way our brain responds to foods by using non-invasive brain stimulation techniques. We’re currently researching the effects of a specific stimulation technique, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which involves the application of a very weak electrical current to the brain. Now, this may conjure quite vivid and worrying images – such perceptions we are currently investigating (cue link to our current survey) – but in reality, these techniques are relatively simplistic, and employ settings that are widely considered safe for healthy and patient populations. Indeed, over the last two decades, thousands of individuals have received tDCS, with the safety of these techniques being shown consistently throughout.
Our research has demonstrated that, although tDCS appears to have limited benefit in healthy individuals (Beaumont et al., 2021), it is likely that certain groups of the population – particularly those who struggle to maintain a healthy diet when exposed to rewarding food cues – will benefit from these techniques (Beaumont et al., 2022).
Thanks to the support from Postgraduate Researcher (PGR) funding at Leeds Trinity, we have been able to present this research at a number of national and international conferences, and have published in leading health-related academic journals. A particular highlight was our recent publication in Obesity Reviews, a top-ten public health academic journal. We’ve also tapped into the University’s student internship scheme, providing an opportunity for a talented undergraduate student to contribute to our research.
This is a relatively new, but rapidly growing, area of research for Leeds Trinity that brings together a multidisciplinary research team. We’re looking to further explore the use of brain stimulation techniques to change behaviours – particularly eating behaviours – in specific populations. The hope is to establish brain stimulation techniques as treatment methods for weight management, but there are many questions still to be answered. Watch this space!
An important note…
Please do not try these techniques at home. Non-invasive brain stimulation procedures within research and clinical settings are rigorously controlled and meticulously monitored to ensure the protocols are safe and ethical. Do-it-yourself (DIY) tDCS can lead to some worrying side effects (e.g. headaches, skin burns, persistent metallic taste) due to the use of unregulated devices and settings beyond safe limits. tDCS should always be delivered by a trained professional.
Jordan Beaumont is a PhD candidate and Visiting Lecturer at Leeds Trinity University. If you are interested in participating in this research, or would like to find out more, please contact Jordan (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Beaumont, J.D., Davis, D., Dalton, M., Nowicky, A., Russell, M. and Barwood, M.J. 2021. The effect of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on food craving, reward and appetite in a healthy population. Appetite. 157, 105004. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2020.105004
Beaumont, J.D., Smith, N.C., Starr, D., Davis, D., Dalton, M., Nowicky, A., Russell, M. and Barwood, M.J. 2022. Modulating eating behavior with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS): A systematic literature review on the impact of eating behavior traits. Obesity Reviews. 23(2), e13364. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.13364