The concept of freezing your nerves to help you lose weight might seem absurd, but so did eating high-fat containing food items for the Keto diet, or going on an all-juice-cleanse for a detox. All you now need is a few celebs endorsing this latest procedure, and it could dethrone the Keto and juice-cleanse from the weight loss diet trends chart.
While the older diet trends have had mixed reviews, turns out the freezing nerve technique might actually work. A recent study showed that by freezing the nerve which carries hunger signals from the gut to the brain, you could actually trick your body into stop feeling hungry.
The annual scientific meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology in Los Angeles conducted a small-scale pilot trial, wherein the researchers reported that the bizarre approach resulted in decreased appetite in all of the 10 participants involved.
Lawrence Cheskin, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore, told Live Science: "It's an interesting concept." Cheskin was not involved in the study and stressed that it is "a pilot study with no control group."
Speaking to Live Science, he said: "We would need to do further studies comparing the treatment to other approaches to weight control to be more certain of a direct effect of the procedure performed."
The procedure is targeted at a part of the vagus nerve (the nerve that interfaces with the digestive system). Called the posterior vagal trunk, it is located at the base of the esophagus and is responsible for notifying the brain whenever the stomach is empty.
The freezing of the nerve is done by inserting a needle-like instrument into the patient's back, with the aid of computed tomography (CT) scan. The imaging helps doctors to ensure that the instrument reaches the exact spot on the nerve that they want to freeze.
Argon gas is then released from the instrument to cool the nerve to sub-zero temperatures, which in turn paralyzes it and stops the hunger-signals from reaching the brain.
Nerve freezing is not just about stopping hunger signals
Ten people aged 27 to 60, with body mass indexes (BMIs) between 30 and 37, which qualifies for mild to moderate obesity, were part of the study.
Lead author David Prologo, an interventional radiologist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, told Live Science that the patients lost 14 percent of their excess body weight (about 3.6 percent of their overall body weight), on average, within 90 days of the procedure.
"That's exactly where you want to be at 90 days," Prologo said. "If you lose weight too quickly, you rebound. But this amount of weight loss is exactly in line with the recommendations of how fast a person should lose weight."
Other than sending hunger signals to the brain, the vagus nerve also helps move food through the stomach. Disabling it would also slows down the transit of food through the digestive tract, which in turn would make the person feel full for a longer period of time.
But there's a catch too. "The vagus nerve controls the gut's nervous system as well as other functions," said Johns Hopkins' Cheskin. This could lead to "a host of side effects, including nausea and vomiting, but the study reported no significant side effects."
Prologo said the procedure could cause bleeding, but that none of the participants in the study had experienced any adverse effects.
Cheskin also expressed doubts on the long-term effectiveness of the procedure "as the body has numerous other mechanisms to ensure we don't lose weight too easily." These mechanisms are there to ensure that a person doesn't completely starve.
Prologo says the effects of the nerve-freezing would wear off within eight months to a year and assures that "the procedure doesn't completely erase the need to eat. The nerve has an anterior trunk and a posterior trunk, we are only freezing one of them."
Sending the body into this eight- to 12-month time period of decreased appetite not only gives it enough time to lose weight but also kind of tricks the body to adjust to a lower weight.
"You are trying to lose weight, but the body rebels," said Prologo. "It doesn't understand what you are doing. It fights back." But freezing the nerve would be tricking the body so it starts cooperating with the participant.
Yet, critics of the study have raised their concern about the procedure leading to a placebo effect. Here's what Prologo has to say on that: "We don't believe that, but in order to prove it, we would have to have a control group in the future."
Live Science reported that the findings of the study are yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.