Freezing The 'Hunger Nerve' Could Be Key To More Permanent Weight Loss, Study Suggests

Researchers might have come up with a way to keep people from regaining the weight they had previously lost — freezing a part of the nervous system informally known as the "hunger nerve."

As explained by ABC News, the nerve in question is officially known as the posterior vagal trunk, and it is a branch of the larger vagus nerve. Although it is also known to work on the heart and the lungs, it gets its "hunger nerve" nickname because it sends signals to the brain whenever a person is hungry. Keeping this capability in mind, a team of researchers from the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta focused on the posterior vagal trunk, in hopes of coming up with ways for people to reduce their weight and not regain whatever pounds they may have lost.

The scope of the study was limited to only 10 people, who were all overweight adults ranging in age from 27- to 66-years-old, with eight of them being female. The subjects' body mass indexes (BMIs) ranged between 30 and 37, putting them in the "moderately" to "severely" obese categories. Using live images from a CT scan, the researchers then performed minor surgery on each of the participants, inserting a probe into their backs in order to freeze the hunger nerve. After the probe was removed, the participants were then sent home on the same day as the procedure.

To track the efficacy of the procedure in terms of weight loss, the researchers conducted follow-ups on the 7th, 45th, and 90th days after the surgery. In each of these follow-ups, the subjects admitted to having a reduced appetite. When the 90th-day results were in, the researchers found that the participants' BMI figures decreased by an average of 13.9 percent, with an average weight loss of 3.6 percent.

"Ninety-five percent of people who embark on a diet on their own will fail or gain their weight back at the six- or 12-month mark," study lead Dr. David Prologo of Emory University said in a video statement explaining the findings.

"The reason for this is the body's backlash to the calorie restriction."
Interestingly, Prologo's wife, Melissa, also underwent the hunger nerve procedure, separate from the 10 people who took part in her husband's research. She said in the video statement that weight loss had been a problem for her since their 6-year-old child was born, but with the surgery being a success in her case, she added that she's "literally never hungry" these days, instead of giving in to the temptation of eating due to boredom.
"It's gradually coming off, so now I know it's not going to come right back on like all the previous diets that I've tried."
Despite the study's promising results, Prologo and his colleagues have yet to publish their research on the posterior vagal trunk in any peer-reviewed medical journal. ABC News also noted that the study's purpose was to see if the hunger nerve surgery was safe. But with the procedure also proving to be safe, the researchers' future plans include launching a phase 2 study that would allow for a control group to be included.

In an interview with Live Science, Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center director Lawrence Cheskin, who did not take part in the research, said that upcoming studies should ideally feature comparisons with other weight loss methods, "to be more certain of a direct effect of the procedure performed."