(DGIwire) – Binge-eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, often very quickly and to the point of discomfort, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Now researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, publishing in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, claim to have found a “shocking” potential advance in treatment.
The researchers’ therapy involves transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), in which constant, low-current electricity is directed to a targeted portion of the brain. While tDCS has been tested and proved effective for many disorders and health issues—including depression and Parkinson’s disease—this study is the first to suggest its potential as a treatment in patients with BED, according to a University of Alabama press release.
The research team tested 30 adults of both sexes with BED or sub-threshold BED with a 20-minute sessions of tDCS targeting a specific section of the brain—the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—for stimulation. They also administered a “sham” session in which individuals were hooked up to the tDCS device but did not actually receive stimulation. The results showed that the tDCS session reduced craving for sweets, savory proteins and an all-foods category significantly more than did the sham session.
“Novel treatments are urgently needed for BED, which was categorized as a recognized and treatable diagnosis by the American Psychological Association a few years ago,” says Roger Crystal, MD, Chief Executive Officer of Opiant Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a specialty pharmaceutical company. “One route to improved treatment may lie in the innovation of new pharmaceutical therapies based on insights on how the brain’s reward center works.”
Opiant is studying the use of opioid antagonists in various delivery forms, in particular using nasal sprays, for the treatment of various substance abuse, addictive and eating disorders, including BED. The company successfully developed NARCAN® Nasal Spray, for the emergency treatment of opioid overdose, which is being marketed by its partner and licensee, Adapt Pharma. The company has planned a series of clinical studies to begin in late 2016 and going forward.
The brain’s reward circuitry is thought to be what regulates the occurrence of addictive behaviors such as BED. Increased levels of certain chemicals called neurotransmitters—such as opioids, endorphins and dopamine—activate the brain’s reward circuitry. However, it has been shown that a class of compounds called opioid antagonists can block the effects of these chemicals and make these types of behaviors less tempting to those who would otherwise obsessively engage in them.
“With BED now taken seriously as a legitimate disorder, the hunt is on for improved treatment,” Crystal adds. “Opioid antagonists could very well be in the forefront of tomorrow’s tools for mitigating its effects.”