People with a greater neural response when seeing and smelling food, eat too much and constantly gain weight
When it comes to starting a diet or weight loss regimen, the brain has more power than our willpower, according to research by Israeli scientists.
Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel) have discovered a neural subnetwork of regions connected between the brain and gastric basal electrical frequency, which correlates with future weight loss based on connectivity patterns.
The findings, published in the scientific journal ‘NeuroImage‘, support the prevailing theory that people with a greater neural response when seeing and smelling food, eat too much and constantly gain weight.
Gastric waves associated with hunger and satiety
“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,” explains Gidon Levakov from the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and one of the authors of the study.
“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,” he adds.
Researchers identified a connection between the basal electric rhythm of the stomach within the subnet and weight loss. That rhythm governs the gastric waves that are associated with hunger and satiety. They also discovered that the brain’s pericalcarine sulcus, the anatomical location of the primary visual cortex, was the most active node in this subnet.
The team evaluated 92 people during an 18-month weight loss regimen. Participants were selected for their large waist circumference, abnormal blood lipid levels and age.
Before starting the diet, the participants underwent a series of brain imaging scans and executive behavioral function tests. Participants’ weight loss was measured after six months on this diet, one that generally achieves maximum weight loss.
The team found that the brain region subnet corresponded more closely to basic sensory and motor regions than to higher multimodal regions.
These findings are important to understand the cause of obesity and the response mechanism to diet
“It appears that visual information may be an important factor triggering eating,” says lead researcher Galia Avidan, from the BGU’s Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and of Psychology. “This is reasonable, given that vision is the primary sense in humans.”
Researchers note that these results can have significant implications for understanding the cause of obesity and the mechanism of response to diet.