Sunday, March 29, 2009

Can anorexia be predicted?

I think we've all asked this question before: can anorexia be predicted?

Several researchers are beginning to look into this more thoroughly. This week, new research on the predictability of anorexia through subtle differences in brain development in children will be revealed at the Institute of London, according to UK paper, The Guardian.

Researchers tested more than 200 people in the UK, US, and Norway who had anorexia. The majority were girls between the ages of 12 and 25, currently receiving treatment.

Through in-depth neuropsychological testing, " they found that about 70% of the patients had suffered damage to their neurotransmitters, which help brain cells communicate with each other, had undergone subtle changes in the structure of their brains, or both."

The researchers go on to say that these results are random and not based on other factors such as the environmental chemicals or poor maternal diet. They also believe that "
Imperfect wiring in the brain's insular cortex that may lead to dyslexia, ADHD or depression in other children produces what he calls "an underlying vulnerability" among some young people that makes them more likely to develop anorexia."

The significance of this study is that it can give better understanding to eating disorders as well as to possibly pave a new path for drug treatment, an area of research which has currently been unsuccessful for treating eating disorders. This also takes some of the blame off of parents for causing their child's eating disorder.

Another interesting point made in this study is the implications of the insular cortex. Research has already shown that the insular cortex is involved in a variety of neuropsychiatric illnesses. The insular cortex was also implicated in a study looking at a sense of taste among women with anorexia. There, researchers found that the women who had recovered from anorexia showed differences in processing taste, especially in the feeling of pleasantness/reward of foods, compared to normal controls who never had anorexia.

Stay tuned as this is some interesting research.

Note--I'm hoping the researchers will go more into detail about their "neuropsychological" testing. If more information is presented, I'll update the post as needed.


Susie said...

Thank you for this. Maybe it will help my mother see the depression and now anorexia is certainly not her fault and that i might not be totally to blame either.

i plan to email the guardian article to her.

take care

Tiptoe said...

Susie, you're welcome. I'm hoping more details of the study will be revealed, as it is early and questions still linger.

Kara said...

I agree that biology can predispose people to eating disorders (or to whatever illness, addiction, etc.), but I also think that environment plays a part too. Nature and nurture.

Tiptoe said...

I agree too, that it isn't really an either or but both. The biological research is interesting just because it's not the first thing that comes to mind with EDs.

Sar said...

In group therapy when IP, one of the girls was concerned she may have 'given' anorexia to her sister. It was discussed in length how it doesn't work that way and if her sister is capable of developing one, then yes, it won't help her being around the behaviors but evidence suggests it is probably biological & genetic factors that will predict the outcome, much like addictions/ alcoholism manifests in certain persons and not others. Very interesting.

curioustudent said...

I think that this was a really interesting article and definitely explains a lot about the biological factors that affect people who have eating disorders. However, I also think that this evidence and research can also bring a lot of controversy to the table as well. Since anorexia is commonly thought of as a problem that upper-middle class white girls have, these scientific findings clearly contradict with that assumption since biological damages to the brain cells are not inherent solely in Caucasians. I agree with the above comment that nurture is also involved with anorexia. It is solely not an issue with nature. For example, images in the media representing unrealistic female bodies or "ideal" female bodies creates hegemony over average females. Many average females with normal body types accept these images as what is appropriate and desirable. As a result, they try to emulate those models in the media by starving themselves or binging and purging. Despite their attempts, however, those with eating disorders, specifically anorexics, feel that they will never measure up to the models despite their attempts. Yet instead of defying structure and having agency in their own choices, the informal structure of the socially accepted images maintains control over the anorexics' eating habits and desire to be thin.

Tiptoe said...

Sar and curioustudent, thanks for your thoughts.

Sar, it's only now that research has focused on the biological implications of EDs. I think as we learn more, we'll understand the inner workings of EDs better.

curioustudent, there is certainly both nature and nurture involved in eating disorders. While it is true that some women do try to emulate thin models, I think the majority are not. This is the problem with the media which overly simplifies this disorder to only wanting to be about a desire to be thin.

The other question to ask is how and when does it get to a point about emulation versus malnourishment.

As to who develops an eating disorder, there is a lot of research looking at various ethnicities and races. Though I'm sure some still believe it primarily affects middle-upper classes, many more people are realizing this disorder does not discriminate.