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An Initial Investigation of Neural Changes in Overweight Adults with Food Cravings after Emotional Freedom Techniques

Citation: Stapleton P, Buchan C, Mitchell I, McGrath Y, Gorton P, Carter B. An Initial Investigation of Neural Changes in Overweight Adults with Food Cravings after Emotional Freedom Techniques. OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine 2019;4(1):14; doi:10.21926/obm.icm.1901010.

The full paper can be found at: https://bit.ly/2UaSX8H

© 2019 by the authors. This is an open access article distributed under the conditions of the Creative Commons by Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format, provided the original work is correctly cited.

Abstract:

Background: This pilot randomised clinical trial investigated the effect of Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) on brain activation in response to food craving stimuli using functional magnetic resonance imaging. EFT is a brief stress reduction technique which involves stating a cognitive statement with stimulation of acupressure points with a tapping technique.

Method: Fifteen overweight/obese adults were allocated to a four-week group EFT treatment or control condition and completed a measure of food craving. Random repeating images of high-calorie food designed to engage parts of the brain were presented during the pre and post fMRI scans.

Results: The Group x Time interaction for food cravings were significant for the EFT group when compared to the controls. Participant mean scores decreased by 18% for the EFT group and 5% for the control group. Brain activity was mapped using fMRI measures, and there was relative deactivation in the Superior Temporal Gyrus and lateral orbito-frontal cortex for the EFT treatment group only. The control group however, showed continued activation in these areas.

Conclusion: The findings indicated EFT may decrease limbic region brain activity and reduce food related symptoms in overweight/obese individuals. This study also illuminates the neurological mechanisms at work behind the many successful outcome studies of EFT for weight loss. Recommendations for more comprehensive trials are discussed.

Craig’s Comments: This paper is significant in that it is the first published report evaluating the use of EFT utilizing functional MRI analysis. This is the first known published study to explore and objectively document neural changes after EFT treatment in overweight/obese adults. While the study was limited in size, the research serves as a pilot study for further explorations of brain activation after EFT treatment. This study can serve as an initial step towards the future fMRI analysis of EFT intervention for other populations and objective analysys.

All participants had an initial (pre) brain scanning session and 5-weeks later at the end of the 4-week EFT intervention.  The EFT treatment was performed for two hours per week, for a 4-week period, to the treatment group by a skilled EFT practitioner, while the control group received no treatment. During the fMRI scanning the participants were shown six random repeating images of high-calorie foods, like chocolate, designed to engage parts of the brain which respond to food stimulation. The food images increased activation in the brain, primarily in the superior temporal gyrus and orbitofrontal cortex. All the pre-scans, there was relative activation in both the superior temporal gyrus (associated with cognition) and lateral orbito-frontal cortex (associated with reward). The EFT group demonstrated a marked reduction in the cortical activation after their treatment in both aforementioned regiojns, whereas the control group remained the same without reduced activation. In addition, the food craving difference scores over time decreased significantly for the EFT group when compared to the controls.

To put it simply, a group of 15 obese/overweight individuals had their brain activity mapped in a fMRI, paying particular attention to areas of the brain previously shown in studies to be activated when being tempting by images of high calorie foods. Then 10 of them received 8 sessions of EFT for their cravings. Then all 15 again had their brains scanned being presented with the same delectable, craving inducing images. The group who had engaged in the EFT treatment showed significant deactivation of areas in the brain critical to dealing with food cravings. The open access paper also gives us some of the fMRI images to be able to visually examine pre and post changes.

Primary study limitations include small sample size and because of that, individual fMRI interprations were measured as opposed to a group type analysis.