New Insights Into How Eating Disorders Alter the Brain

Robert Preidt

Health Day Reporter
THURSDAY, July 1, 2021 (Health Day News) — A new study shows that behaviors associated with eating disorders can lead to real changes in the brain. The findings may help explain why these serious disorders are often chronic, as well as point the way to new treatments. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and compulsive overeating can lead to serious complications, including death. Associated behaviors include overeating, purging, and restricting food intake.

“This work is important because it links biological and behavioral factors that interact to adversely affect eating behavior,” said Janani Prabhakar of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Division of Translation Studies, part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The study “deepens our knowledge … and gives researchers and clinicians more information about how, when, and with whom to intervene,” said Prabhakar, who was not part of the research team.

Researchers led by Dr. Guido Frank of the University of California San Diego found that eating disorder behaviors alter the brain’s response to rewards and food control patterns, which can reinforce the behavior.

The NIH-supported study included approximately 200 women with various eating disorders and various body mass indexes (BMIs) associated with various eating disorders. Another 120 women without eating disorders also participated.

The researchers used cross-sectional functional brain imaging scans to assess the female brain’s response to reward during taste-reward tasks.

“The study provides a model of how behavioral traits contribute to eating problems and BMI changes, and how eating disorder behavior, anxiety, mood, and brain neuroscience interact to reinforce an eating disorder vicious cycle that makes recovery very difficult,” Frank said. . NIH news release.

Further research is needed to explore therapies that could target and modify reward behavior in people with eating disorders. This may help them achieve long-term recovery, according to the NIH.

The results were published online on June 30 at JAMA Psychiatry.

More information

The US National Institute of Mental Health has more information on eating disorders.

SOURCE: US National Institutes of Health press release June 30, 2021

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