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Zap your brain for a better you

Zap your brain for a better you
From Engadget - January 13, 2018

Many of these gadgets use tDCS -- transcranial direct current stimulation -- to mildly stimulate or suppress neurons firing in certain areas of the brain. It's a straightforward mechanism that has been heavily studied in connection with everything from math skills to post-stroke rehabilitation. There is much we still do not know about how the brain functions, and tDCS research is not conclusive -- it merely correlates electric shocks with improvements in conditions without our understanding why. Yet when it works, it's a noninvasive, relatively cheap clinical treatment that's fairly safe, beyond potential burns and mild discomfort.

Off-the-shelf devices that tap into this research, mostly to help users focus or relax, have been around for a while. Yet, increasingly, startups are allowing you to administer your own electric zaps, to achieve a host of goals.

Modius, for instance, is designed for weight loss. It does not use tDCS, because its currents do not hit the brain directly. Instead it targets your vestibular nerve, which affects the hypothalamus.

As CEO Jason McKeown explained, the hypothalamus controls fat storage, appetite and metabolic rate. By stimulating it, Modius essentially tricks your brain into thinking the body is in motion, which jacks up your metabolism. "It feels like you are moving," he said. "It's a pleasant floaty feeling."

To me, it was more of a lightheadedness, like a dizzying rush of blood to the head. McKeown claimed that, of the 650 people using Modius, 80 percent lost weight, with an average decrease of six pounds after six weeks. After an Indiegogo campaign last summer, the device went on sale this month for $499.

Meanwhile, Danish company Platoscience's headset, called Platowork, is designed to help you be creative or focused, depending on the setting. (Another product still in development is called Platoplay; the company says it will boost eSports players' performance.) The company says that 15 minutes with the headset shortly before you want to work gives you a brain boost for about an hour.

Research indeed shows a link between tDCS and creativity, and the company pitches its product as a way to stop procrastination or break through a mental block. "We do not help you be better at creativity or focus; we help you get into that mind-set," said Morten Lindhardt Madsen, the company's UX designer.

Then there's Ybrain, a startup from Seoul, South Korea, that claims to treat depression. In South Korea, depression rates are comparatively high for a developed country, but the condition still carries a public stigma. The company says it wants to provide private relief to users. "We found that many patients who have depression are not coming to hospital," said a spokesman. A number of papers have shown that tDCS can decrease depression, and a recent review claims that depression is one of the most responsive conditions to mild electric pulses, along with addiction and fibromyalgia.

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