Can an electric “slap” curb binge-eating impulses?

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It’s the end of a long day, and despite your best intentions, you find yourself reaching for a tub of ice cream or a bag of chips, and before you know it, you’ve consumed the whole pint or package. Or you light up a cigarette, even though you swore you would quit. Or one glass of wine becomes two or three.

Impulsive behavior accounts for many destructive decisions human beings make. But what if you could get a little “tap on the wrist” just before you reached for the ice cream, cigarette or third glass of wine? And what if that “tap” could dampen those impulses?

Stanford University scientists have found a way to curb overeating in mice. In the moments before mice begin to overindulge, there’s a telltale spike in certain electronic signals in the brain. Scientists have found that humans show similar brain changes before succumbing to temptation.

The scientists then implanted a responsive neurostimulation system in the mice similar to a system already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in seizure patients. The system detects changes in the activity of an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, [ah-CUM-bens] and when it does, it delivers a small electronic stimulation, or “tap,” that curbed the urge to binge in the mice.

Stanford researchers believe that clinical trials of the system could start as early as next summer.

But until this research becomes a reality, we will all have to use other means to curb the urge to eat too many cookies, binge-watch Netflix and otherwise overindulge.

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