Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Irradiating the hypothalamus reduces body fat by 30% in 10 weeks in mice (economist.com)
37 points by joeguilmette 1576 days ago | hide | past | web | 26 comments | favorite

Before you go off giving yourself brain cancer, try changing your diet first. Reduce or eliminate foods that spike your glucose, which reduces your insulin levels, which makes your body burn stored fat instead of food glucose for energy. Good overview here:


Much of what we eat today - grains, legumes, starches, processed foods - our body hasn't genetically adapted to yet. We've had these foods for no more than the past 10,000 years when agriculture was invented, yet Homo Sapiens have existed for the past 200,000 years, and our various Homo X and primate ancestors for several million years before that. Obese people have a worse reaction to these foods, but no one is completely unaffected by them.

Obesity 'cures' like in the OP are just the insanity that results from trying to hack solutions to a problem without fully understanding it.

Irradiating the hypothalamus is not intended to be a treatment for obesity; that's missing the point. The point of this research is to elucidate the significant role of the hypothalamus in the regulation of body fat, so that other studies can now be done to hone in on the mechanism at work, in the eventual hope of finding a pathway to target in order to induce weight loss in a more specific and less harmful manner. This is a first step towards finding a potential treatment, a clue as to where we might look, not the treatment itself.

We've had these foods for no more than the past 10,000 years when agriculture was invented, yet Homo Sapiens have existed for the past 200,000 years

10,000 years is about 400-500 generations, which sounds like quite many to my genetically untrained eyes. Since the human population boom has occurred during those 10k years and more or less wholly thanks to agriculture, pretty much everyone alive now is a descendant of people who did much better on that diet than they had been doing on previous foods.

Maybe someone who knows genetics could share an opinion on this: aren't 400-500 generations enough to filter out genes incompatible with agricultural food from the gene pool?

I've never understood why so-called "paleo" dieters have to push this point so hard, which as far as I've ever read is pure speculation (in roughly this time milk drinking populations have evolved a lactose tolerance).

I'll easily buy the idea that we eat way too many refined carbohydrates and that has an ill effect on our health. Why harp on the "we're not evolved to eat grains!", if this were definitively proven to be false would paleo dieters jump back to eating bagels? I doubt it. This seems more to be the case of people taking up an extreme position and then cliaming "science!"

Eat more fruits and veggies, and less refined grains? sounds great. "Science" tells us to stop eating all wheat products! Sounds more like fanaticism.

>I've never understood why so-called "paleo" dieters have to push this point so hard, which as far as I've ever read is pure speculation...

You're right that it's probably unneccessary to even mention that aspect, the salient point is to avoid foods that spike your glucose, and as a result your insulin. It just so happens that anthropologists realized that once you eliminate those foods from your diet, what you're left with is the exact diet of paleolithic era man.

>Science" tells us to stop eating all wheat products! Sounds more like fanaticism.

Read the Intro and first chapter of Arthur De Vany's book, The New Evolution Diet. It explains the science.

The problem with the paleo theory of obesity is that it doesn't match the facts very well. Obesity has been an issue for the past 50 years, not 10,000. I prefer the technology explanation for modern obesity. Like, "Smart people at frito-lay have scoured the earth for ingredients and chemical processes to make hyper-palatable and inexpensive foods like nacho cheese Doritos. Humans are not evolved to eat these foods in reasonable portions." The industrialization of food production aligns with the facts of obesity much better.

That being said, a "paleo" diet is a great way to lose weight and maintain a strong and healthy body. It is just not a very good explanation for modern obesity.

You're pretty hard on the OP - they didn't mention cure, or obesity, or humans. You read that into it.

Actually, I think he's speaking to the people that are reading it like "Hey! I could use this to fix my weight problem!" That's my reading of it.

Well said, sir. I wish more research went into actually understanding what are the dietary needs on humans and the links with our evolution and genome instead of crazy solutions like stomach reduction, hormonal treatments, etc.

our body hasn't genetically adapted to yet

And it won't, because natural selection isn't working anymore. I'm not saying that it's good or bad, though, just pointing it out.

Strange the article laments the lack of a silver bullet for weight loss. Surely the idea of a nonitrusive round of radiation (a procedure that has been around for just shy of a century) resulting in rapid body fat loss.

The impermanence of the condition seems to make boost its potential effects. Simply go in for a few treatments until you're down to your target weight, and if you happen to gain it back in a few months or years, just go in again...

This also gives credence to idea that obesity is a psychological malady, like depression or schizophrenia. It is certainly as difficult to treat.

The article didn't mention any side effects. I take this to mean that we just don't know what they are yet, rather that there are none.

I remember reading an article about a doctor irradiating children's thyroids. I think the goal was to shrink the thyroid, believing that it hindered speech acquisition. Turns out, all it did was raise the rates of thyroid cancer to something near 100% in the treated children.

The version I heard here:


linked the practice to doctors' misunderstanding of the cause of SIDS (crib death). It's interesting to learn where they came up with that misunderstanding.

Edit: In this case, they were actually irradiating the thymus gland.

Thanks, internet!

> This also gives credence to idea that obesity is a psychological malady, like depression or schizophrenia. It is certainly as difficult to treat.

I've often thought that extreme obesity (let's say over 180 kg or about 400 lbs) could be an eating disorder. But when I've asked eating disorder experts they say that the research doesn't support that. Certainly there are psychiatric / psychological aspects (depression / low self esteem / etc) to extreme obesity.

And I guess people would say that if there's a brain defect to cause it then it's a neurological disease, not psychological.

> it's a neurological disease, not psychological.

The more we learn about the brain, the blurrier that line becomes.

The paper discussed in the article appears to be http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nn.30..., and the radiation treatment used is http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1667/RR2214.1. Assuming the dosing was the same as in the original paper, this means that the radiation beam was 10 Gy of X-Rays over a 9mm^2 area, which is somewhat interesting because according to Wikipedia "A whole-body exposure to 5 or more gray of high-energy radiation at one time usually leads to death within 14 days". So I'm surprised the beam merely "deactivates" neuron production, it seems more like something that should be expected to kill the targeted cells entirely.

If your stomach lining cells stop dividing for a few weeks, you digest yourself and bleed out through an ulcer. If your bone marrow cells stop dividing for a few weeks, you bleed to death or die of infections. Location matters.

>>Dr McNay compared neuron growth in mice fed either normal food (containing 20% fat) or a high-fat diet (60% fat).

It bothers me that they don't state whether or not the calories were the same. While I suspect the high fat diet was higher in calories, it bothers me that people vilify fat like this.

That's like saying chopping off your limbs reduces body weight by 50 pounds in 3 minutes. It's a true fact.

There isn't anything particularly noteworthy in this article. Past experiments with creating lesions in the hypothalamus of mouse brains have shown increases in weight. Alternately, stimulating another region will cause the mouse to eat less.

Since our environment, mood, etc. play their part in our brain chemistry and "brain genes" activation/deactivation (gene expression), this could mean that there is more to weight loss than sports and nutrition. IIRC the hypothalamus enacts control over our body via hormone production, meaning that a "hypothalamus problem" could hinder thyroid hormones or up cortisol production.

It fits well into the big picture - stress or stressful environment cause "bad" gene expressions in hypothalamus -> hormone imbalance -> metabolism lowered -> fat storage.

Perhaps the effect of our environment and wellbeing on our bodyweight is greater than one would have thought.

Silver bullet = Modifying and controlling your diet and exercising.

I understand the thyroid issues for some people, but most would rather take the easy "magic pill" way out. You gain nothing from weight loss plans like that. Losing weight and keeping it off is a lifestyle change. Most people aren't willing to commit to it.

A lifestyle change - or a body reconditioning. Changing your body chemistry through diet and exercise may in fact change the very areas of the brain the article mentions. The end result may be exactly the same. You may prefer or enjoy exercise; others certainly don't. And if they have different phobias about methods of intervening (be it exercise or brain chemistry), they may legitimately come to a different conclusion.

Your understanding of this issue is simplistic. Consider:


> Silver bullet = Modifying and controlling your diet and exercising.

It would be a silver bullet if people could do it. The fact that most people cannot do it shows it's not a silver bullet.

People know a bunch of stuff[1] is bad for them. They may only know the abstract ('this is bad') and not the concrete ('this will raise my risk of $DISEASE by X% which means I have a 1 in Y chance of dying from $DISEASE before the age of 75') - but more information doesn't seem to make any difference.

A method to help people change their behaviour would be a significant advance.

[1] smoking; drinking to excess; drinking and driving; certain drug use; etc etc.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact