[Paleopsych] BBC: Brain chemistry link to anorexia

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Mon Sep 19 19:42:47 UTC 2005

Brain chemistry link to anorexia

Scientists have produced evidence that the eating disorder anorexia
nervosa is linked to disrupted brain chemistry.

They have shown a form of the disorder is associated with an
alteration of the activity of serotonin - a chemical linked to mood
and anxiety.

The University of Pittsburgh team hope their work could lead to the
development of new drugs and psychological treatments.

The study is published in Archives of General Psychiatry.

The main symptom of anorexia nervosa is the relentless pursuit of
thinness through self-starvation, driven by an obsessive fear of being fat.

There are two sub-types. One simply involves restricting food intake,
the other involves periods of restrictive eating alternated with
episodes of binge eating and /or purging, rather like bulimia.

The Pittsburgh team compared serotonin activity in women who had
recovered from both sub-types of the disorder, with that in women who
had never developed an eating disorder.

Using sophisticated brain scans, they showed significantly higher
serotonin activity in several parts of the brains of women who had
recovered from the bulimia-type form of the disorder.

Serotonin levels were also heightened in the group who had recovered
from restricting-type anorexia, but not significantly so.

However, the highest levels in this group were found among those
women who showed most signs of anxiety.

The researchers say their work suggests that persistent disruption of
serotonin levels may lead to increased anxiety, which may trigger anorexia.

However, they could not rule out the possibility that serotonin
levels were altered by the malnutrition associated with the disorder.

New treatments

The researchers, led by Dr Ursula Bailer, said: "There are no proven
treatments for anorexia nervosa, and this illness has the highest
mortality of any psychiatric disorder.

"These data offer the promise of a new understanding of the
pathogenesis of anorexia nervosa and new drug and psychological
treatment targets."

Professor Janet Treasure, an expert in eating disorders at King's
College London said other research had suggested eating disorders
were linked to disrupted serotonin levels.

She told the BBC News website: "The addition of drugs to
psychotherapy for anorexia nervosa may be of help, especially in an
outpatient setting, but adherence could be a problem as people with
anorexia nervosa often are worried about taking drugs."

The King's team work with the Pittsburg team in a large International
study to seek answers to the questions about what can cause or cure
eating disorders.

They are currently seeking families in which more than one person has
an eating disorder in order to define risk factors in the genes, in
development and in the environment.

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