An electrical device that stimulates nerve endings behind the ears could be a pioneering new treatment for those who struggle to lose weight.
The device, worn as a headset, sends electrical signals to the vestibular nerves, which are linked to the parts of the brain that control fat storage and hunger.
The idea is that this will help people feel fuller with less food intake. Some 200 people are taking part in clinical trials of the headset.
The device, worn as a headset, sends electrical signals to the vestibular nerves, which are linked to the parts of the brain that control fat storage and hunger
One in four Britons is classed as obese, with nearly two-thirds of adults overweight. Dieting can be effective for some, but many quickly put the weight back on.
In one study, although dieters lost up to 10 per cent of their starting weight in the first six months of a new regimen, two-thirds had regained more weight than they had lost within five years, according to University of California scientists writing in the journal American Psychologist.
The new headset consists of two electrodes attached to patches that are placed on the skin behind each ear (where the vestibular nerve endings sit). When activated, the electrodes emit low-level pulses of electrical stimulation, which may trigger a light tingling sensation behind the ears.
The vestibular nerve is involved in balance control, but is also linked to the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that deals with regulating appetite and food intake, as well as metabolic rate and fat storage.
Researchers believe that appetite and metabolism regulation by the hypothalamus can vary widely between individuals, which is why some people gain weight more easily than others.
It is thought daily pulse stimulation of the vestibular nerve could trigger the hypothalamus into reducing cravings and appetite by stimulating the production of hormones such as leptin and insulin.
Previous research has found that leptin tells the brain when the body has stored enough fat, which in turn curbs appetite, while insulin regulates the absorption of blood sugar by cells and is linked to