When you eat a large meal, your stomach swells over time and stretch receptors send signals to your brain via the vagus nerve. As a result, the brain stimulates the production of hormones such as insulin, which help you digest food, give you a feeling of fullness and indicate that it is time to stop eating. At the same time, the level of the hunger-promoting hormone ghrelin decreases.
Engineers Shreya Srinivasan of Harvard University and Giovanni Traverso of MIT have figured out how to influence this process. By artificially stretching the stomach’s stretch receptors, they wanted to create an illusion of swelling and thus control hormones and eating patterns. They thought of creating this false feeling through vibrations, because previous research has shown that vibrations in muscles can create the feeling that they are stretched further than they actually are.
Engineers created a swallowable capsule that contains a vibration element powered by a small silver oxide battery. It is activated in the stomach once acidic gastric fluids dissolve the gelatinous membrane covering the capsule.
In animals given the vibrating pill twenty minutes before eating, it stimulated the release of hormones that signal satiety and reduced their food intake by about forty percent. The pills had no side effects and left the digestive system within four to five days.
If further research indicates that this technology can be used safely in humans, researchers may have found a minimally invasive way to treat obesity.
Source: Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States