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Network that connects the brain and stomach can predict weight loss

Network that connects the brain and stomach can predict weight loss. An MRI scan can predict whether you will have success with weight loss, according to a new study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). The researchers have found that it is not just willpower that motivates us to maintain a healthy weight, but also communication that takes place between the brain and the stomach. 

The experts discovered a neural network that connects the brain to the gastric basal electric frequency, and that the connectivity patterns in this region correspond with future weight loss.

The findings support the theory that people with an increased neural response to the sight and smell of food are more susceptible to overeating and gaining weight.

“In this work, we found evidence of a brain subnetwork supporting successful weight loss. Connectivity within this subnetwork, comprised mostly of connections to cortical sensory and motor regions, predicted dietary success in weight loss after 6 months of lifestyle intervention,” wrote the researchers.

Study lead author Gidon Levakov is a graduate student in the BGU Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

“To our surprise, we discovered that while higher executive functions, as measured behaviorally, were dominant factors in weight loss, this was not reflected in patterns of brain connectivity,” said Levakov. “Consequently, we found that weight loss is not merely a matter of willpower, but is actually connected to much more basic visual and olfactory cues.”

The stomach’s basal electrical rhythm (BER) regulates the gastric waves that are associated with hunger and feeling full. In the newly described neural subnetwork connected to the BER, the most active branch was found to be the pericalcarine sulcus – the anatomical location of the primary visual cortex.

The study was focused on participants in an 18-month lifestyle weight loss intervention led by Professor Iris Shai. Before the intervention, the individuals were given brain imaging scans and behavioral executive function tests. 

According to Professor Shai, maximum weight loss is generally achieved after six months of dieting, which is when the weight of the participants was measured. 

The experts found that the new subnetwork is more closely involved with basic sensory and motor regions rather than more complex brain regions.

“It appears that visual information may be an important factor triggering eating,” said study principal investigator Professor Galia Avidan. “This is reasonable, given that vision is the primary sense in humans.”

The findings will help experts to gain a better understanding of what causes obesity and the neural response to dieting.

The study is published in the journal NeuroImage.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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