Cause Of Anorexia Linked To Brain Circuitry

Anorexia and human brain
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Use of a new imaging technique has revealed that abnormalities in brain circuitry may be a cause of anorexia nervosa. This latest find was published in the online journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience and may help explain why individuals develop anorexia and the behaviors associated with it.

Anorexia nervosa (usually known as anorexia), a psychiatric disorder that primarily affects females (90 to 95% of all cases), also has the highest death rate of any psychiatric condition. Given that there are no effective ways to treat people who have this eating disorder, along with the high death rate, means that any insight into the cause of anorexia is of vast interest and importance.

The current report, which was authored by Walter Kaye, MD, and his colleagues at the Eating Disorders Program at the University of California, San Diego, noted abnormalities in areas of the brain that are associated with bodily sensations, including getting pleasure from food. One of the affected brain areas is called the anterior insula, which plays a critical role in how people are aware of their internal body signals. A short-circuit in this area may be a contributing cause of anorexia.

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The imaging studies suggest that people who have anorexia also have an imbalance in brain circuitry that regulates emotions and rewards. This coincides with the tendency for people with anorexia to have difficulty experiencing pleasure, to have worry excessively about the consequences of their actions, and to be perfectionists.

A better understanding of how brain circuitry impacts behavior and contributes to anorexia has the potential to help scientists find more effective treatments for this eating disorder. The authors note that predisposing factors, such as anxiety, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies may precede the onset of anorexia, and need to be considered as well. These are characteristics often seen among adolescents and young adults as they make their transition into adulthood, the same age group that is most affected by anorexia.

This latest study of the impact of abnormal brain circuitry adds to the growing knowledge about anorexia and its possible causes. This is good news for the 1 to 5 percent of the population that suffers with this disorder.

Sources: Science Daily
National Eating Disorder Association

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