A type of therapy used to help people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) could also benefit those with type 2 diabetes.
Researchers from the Netherlands say deep brain stimulatio, which is normally used to electrically stimulate the part of the brain that deals with motivation, reward and addictio, may also improve blood sugar levels.
A study was carried out, after the initial findings were discovered by accident, when an obese man with type 2 diabetes underwent the deep brain treatment to help him control his OCD.
He was fitted with a device that delivered electrical impulses into the brain. Once the treatment had been carried out, the man noticed his blood sugar levels had significantly improved and his daily insulin requirements decreased by about 80%.
Dr Miguel Alonso-Alonso, director of Harvard University’s Mind Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative, who wasn’t involved in the study, said: “The connection between brain and metabolism is only partially understood. This is a new and exciting direction with the involvement of the striatum, a key reward center.”
Although these findings could pave the way for a potential new diabetes treatment, Dr Alonso-Alonso said they first need to “establish the nature of this associatio, understand its magnitude and its clinical relevance”.
To further explore the surprise findings researchers recruited 14 people, who also underwent the OCD treatment. Although none of them had type 2 diabetes, the researchers said even healthy people’s ability to take up insulin via their fat, liver and muscles can vary.
The brain stimulators affected the subjects’ insulin sensitivity, and turning them off and on made the levels rise and fall. The researchers found their metabolic function was better when their brain stimulators were turned o, than when the devices were turned off.
Dr Alonso-Alonso said these findings “suggest that the brain may play a much more active and complex role in the regulation of metabolism than we usually believe”.
He added: “This makes sense, because at the end, metabolic needs should align well with the overall state of the individual. I think there are real good opportunities here for this integrative research; we need to learn more about this connection.”
The findings have been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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