Checkup Medical Column for Feb 24

A weekly round-up of news affecting your health.



A small study of women with severe anorexia suggests brain stimulation may help treat people with the eating disorder.

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, found that implanting stimulation electrodes into the brains of patients could ease their anxiety and help them gain weight.

While the study only included 16 patients, it suggests that the intervention is safe and could help improve some symptoms of anorexia, but “more research” is needed.

The patients involved were aged 21 to 57 years old who had had anorexia for an average of 18 years. They were severely underweight with an average body mass index BMI of 13.8.

All underwent deep brain stimulation, which involves implanting electrodes and stimulating areas of the brain that control dysfunctional behaviours.

Out of the 16, mental health systems improved for 14.

Mood and anxiety symptoms reduced in five patients and depression reduced in 10 out of 14 patients. They also reported better quality of life.

Importantly, the average BMI of the group increased to 17.3 – an increase of 3.5 points – and six patients achieved a normal BMI of 18.5 or more.

“Anorexia remains the psychiatric disorder with the highest mortality rate, and there is an urgent need to develop safe, effective, evidence-driven treatments that are informed by a growing understanding of brain circuitry,” said study author, Professor Andres Lozano, University of Toronto, Canada.

“While our results show some early promise, more research will be needed before this becomes available for patients with anorexia,” Prof Lozano said.


An Australian study has found gastric band surgery has significant benefits for moderately overweight people with type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies have focused on obese people.

The five-year study by Monash’s Centre for Obesity Research and Education (CORE), found that gastric or Lap-band surgery improved the patients’ chances of diabetes remission, reduced the need for diabetes medication and dramatically enhanced their quality of life.

The study, led by clinician researcher Dr John Wentworth and weight loss surgeon Professor Paul O’Brien, compared 45 participants: 22 randomised to receive gastric banding combined with medical care, and 23 who received medical care alone.

Both groups received help with lifestyle factors such as exercise and healthy eating.

It found an average weight loss of 12.2 per cent of body weight in the gastric band group compared with 1.8 per cent in the medical care-only group.

Almost a quarter of the gastric band group showed diabetes remission at five years, compared to nine per cent of the medical care-only group.

“We had people who were feeling better, moving better and who were happier because of the surgery,” Dr Wentworth said.

“Their diabetes was better controlled and they needed fewer diabetic medications to control their blood sugar levels,” he said.


Brainy teens may be less likely to smoke, but more likely to drink and use cannabis, according to new research.

A study of more than 6000 students from 838 state, and 52 fee-paying, schools across England found during their early teens the “brainy” pupils were less likely to smoke cigarettes than their less academically gifted peers.

The research in online journal BMJ Open showed they were more likely to say they drank alcohol during this period too.

They were also more likely to say they used cannabis, but this wasn’t statistically significant.

Those of average academic ability were 25 per cent more likely to use cannabis occasionally and 53 per cent more likely to use it persistently than those who were not as academically gifted.

During their late teens, brainy pupils were more than twice as likely to drink alcohol regularly and persistently than those who were not as clever.

As for the use of cannabis, clever pupils were 50 per cent more likely to use this substance occasionally and nearly twice as likely to use persistently than those who weren’t as clever.

Similar patterns were seen for those of average academic ability.

Despite being only an observational study, the authors say that it does provide evidence “against” the theory that high academic ability is associated with “temporary” experimentation with substance use.