Help may be on the way for people suffering from severe anorexia nervosa. Quite often, anorexics can be more or less cured via approaches such as psychotherapy. In particularly treatment-resistant cases, however, the condition continues unabated, sometimes even to the point of death. For people in that latter category, a recent study indicates that Deep Brain Stimulation might be the answer.

Conducting the study were three scientists from the Krembil Neuroscience Centre of Toronto Western Hospital, and the eating disorders program at Toronto General Hospital. Six female subjects aged 24 to 57 participated, all of whom had been suffering from severe anorexia for anywhere from four to 37 years – the mean duration was 18 years. As is often the case with anorexia, all of the subjects but one also suffered from major depressive disorders and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

During a procedure in which they remained awake, each of the women had a series of electrodes implanted through the top of their skull and into a region of their brain believed to regulate mood, anxiety, reward and body-perception – functions that are thought to be abnormal in anorexics.

A central subcutaneous wire ran from those electrodes down to a generator implanted below each subject’s right clavicle, which continuously delivered stimulating pulses of electricity to the electrodes, much like a pacemaker.

When the subjects were evaluated nine months later, it was found that three of them had experienced the largest and longest-sustained weight gain that they had achieved since becoming anorexic. Additionally, four of the women reported “simultaneous changes in mood, anxiety, control over emotional responses, urges to binge and purge and other symptoms related to anorexia, such as obsessions and compulsions.”

Two of them went on to complete an inpatient eating disorders program, which they had previously been unable to do.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal The Lancet. More information is available in the video below.