New Study on Anorexia Shows How Malnourishment Affects the Brain

June 21, 2018   /   byHealthier Societies  / Categories :  Diet
Woman holding a plate with cucumber

The human body has an instinct to survive—people are hardwired to blink, breathe, and even jump away from the path of an oncoming vehicle. This fact makes anorexia baffling to many, where patients starve themselves, sometimes to the point of death. Until today, the answer to that is unknown, but new studies have honed in on several risk factors, including the environment, genetics, emotional stability, and perhaps most interesting, the brain.

Do Alterations in Brain Activity Occur Before the Physical Changes?

Research shows that even those who got treatments for anorexia and eventually recovered have subtle but impactful differences than those who never dealt with the disorder. Results reveal that individuals struggling with this mental illness have a different reward response in their brains and have altered serotonin pathways.

Clinically, patients have difficulty experiencing pleasure, not only for the after-dinner dessert but also most pleasures of life in general. People with the eating disorder also find it hard to enjoy a reward because they are too scared about the possible consequences. This makes sense, as eating more will only make them feel anxious or bad about themselves.

How the Brains of Anorexics React to Food Stimuli

Normally, the brains of those who have never experienced the eating disorder would respond actively to food stimuli. However, people with anorexia do not react to food or even pictures of it. This leads researchers to believe that patients get less or no pleasure from eating.

More studies show that anorexics may have trouble distinguishing between negative and positive feedback, which is why it is extremely difficult to explain to them the consequences of their behavior.

Anorexia is a serious problem, and it has the highest mortality among all mental disorders. If science can unravel its missing neurobiological links, experts may be able to come up with better solutions to treat the illness.

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