Researchers at MIT have developed an ingestible capsule that can prevent overeating by vibrating inside your stomach and giving you the illusion that your stomach is full.
The capsule is called VIBES (Vibrating Ingestible BioElectronic Stimulator) and was recently tested on animals and turned out to be a great success, reducing the food consumption of the test subjects by 40%.
The researchers believe that this vibrating capsule could work as a great alternative to the current approaches to treating obesity. Unlike existing obesity treatments that involve invasive gastric surgeries, VIBES works as a non-invasive and easy-to-implement solution for keeping body weight under control.
“Traditional interventions, such as invasive surgeries, can be associated with significant risks, costs, and lifestyle modifications, limiting their applicability and effectiveness,“ Shirya S. Srinivasan, the lead researcher told Medical News Today.
Our body has a natural mechanism to prevent overeating
When a person feels hungry, the release of a hunger-promoting hormone called ghrelin keeps on rising in their body until they start eating. As they begin consuming food, the stomach and intestine muscles start expanding and the sensation of hunger decreases.
These muscles have special sensory neurons called mechanoreceptors that get stretched when the stomach expands, sending signals to the brain to activate the production of insulin and other hormones. The hormones initiate the process of digestion, cause ghrelin levels to go down, and create a sense of fullness in the stomach, preventing a person from overeating.
However, this mechanism has its limitations.
For instance, if a person consumes fast food more their body releases high amounts of endorphins, hormones which make you feel good. In that case, a person is likely to overeat even after his stomach feels full or eat more frequently because of the pleasure they receives from eating.
This eating behavior becomes even more intense when the person is sad, stressed, or burnt out because eating junk food makes them feel good almost instantly. This is why many people who suffer from obesity are also found to be addicted to fast food.
Another limitation is that the activation of mechanoreceptors is an involuntary action. You can’t tell your body to create a sense of stomach fullness anytime you want. This is where the VIBES capsule can make a difference.
“I wondered if we could (artificially) activate stretch receptors in the stomach by vibrating them and having them perceive that the entire stomach has been expanded, to create an illusory sense of distension that could modulate hormones and eating patterns,” Srinivasan said.
The capsule can allow a person to control their eating behavior on their own by inducing an artificial sense of fullness.
Furthermore, since it relies on the human body’s natural mechanism of preventing overeating, it is not likely to have any dangerous side effects, according to the researchers.
“We believe that relying on these mechanisms will minimize side effects.” Plus, compared to other types of treatments, “A capsule-based solution offers scalability and minimization of costs, making this accessible to global populations,” Srinivasan added.
How the VIBES capsules work
The ingestible capsule is 30.65 mm long and has a gel-like covering on the outside. It comes loaded with a motor and a tiny silver oxide battery.
The researchers tested the capsule on 10 pigs. The animals received the capsule 20 minutes before the meal every day for several days.
The researchers noticed that every time a VIBES capsule came in contact with the gastric fluid within a swine’s stomach, it began vibrating.
The vibration lasted 30 minutes, causing stretching of the mechanoreceptors and eventually inducing a sense of fullness before the animal’s stomach was actually full. This resulted in a decreased food intake among the pigs.
By the end of the experiment, Srinivasan and her team observed a staggering 40 percent drop in the food consumption of the test animals compared to the control group pigs that didn’t receive the VIBES treatment.
“We evaluated VIBES across 108 meals in swine which consistently led to diminished food intake (~40%) and minimized the weight gain rate as compared to untreated controls,” the researchers note.
“We were impressed by the level to which it was effective, especially in the swine model as these animals normally have a large appetite. It was a very consistent effect, which supports our hypotheses about the (capsule’s) working mechanism,” Srinivasan added.
Nevertheless, the pigs didn’t experience any side effects and the capsule safely moved through their digestive system after four to five days.
“The animals did not show any signs of obstruction, perforation, or other negative impacts while the pill was in their digestive tract,” the study authors said.
The researchers are now working towards further improving their capsule’s design and efficacy so that they can soon begin testing on human subjects.
The VIBES capsule is not a silver bullet against obesity
Although VIBES seems like an easy way of keeping weight under control, some health experts and doctors believe that regular exercise and a balanced diet will remain the best options to deal with obesity.
This is because there is always some degree of health risk with treatments such as VIBES. For instance, the capsule uses silver oxide to power its activity inside the body. Upon leaking, this chemical can cause stomach pain, throat infection, and various other health problems.
Another important aspect is that exercise and a healthy diet keep a person’s weight under control by gradually improving their body metabolism. So although these methods work slowly, they can entirely change the way a person eats and could drastically improve a person’s overall health in the long run
The VIBES capsule, on the other hand, only relies on creating a temporary sense of stomach fullness, and therefore it has a temporary effect.
“The stomach empties within an hour, so the longest this thing would give you that effect would be like an hour. You can’t keep swallowing one of these every hour, so they have to figure out a way for it to last longer in the stomach. If that’s possible, then that can be an alternative,” Dr. Mir Ali, the Medical Director at MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center who was not involved in the research, told Medical News Today.
The study is published in the journal Science Advances.
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