Nearly 1 million people in the United Kingdom suffer from eating disorders which are thought to emanate from a specific region in the brain associated with perfectionist traits and anxiety.
According to the findings of a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, eating disorders can now be detected using an evolved scanning method that shows a typical type of brain activity for such victims. Nearly one in 100 women from the ages of 15 to 30 suffers from anorexia nervosa.
Even those women who were maintaining a healthy weight for over a year and had almost recovered from eating disorders portrayed this difference in the pattern of brain activity.
According to researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, this understanding will inspire better treatments in the management of this disorder while also throwing light on the grave underlying problems of victims.
Dr Walter Kaye and his team undertook a study of 13 women who were showing improvements with treatment from anorexia and 13 healthy women. The women were told to participate in a computer quiz with cash awards for the right answers. During this process, researchers used a brain scan called as the functional magnetic resonance imaging to study their minds. As they were playing the game, the brain regions showed different patterns for both groups of women.
Anterior ventral striatum which is the brain region for emotional responses was starkly different during both winning and losing the game in the healthy women. In contrast, the difference was barely visible in women with a history of anorexia.
Dr Kaye explained this finding by saying, "For anorexics, then, perhaps it is difficult to appreciate immediate pleasure if it does not feel much different from a negative experience."
Instead the brain area known as the caudate, known to associated with actions pertaining to prioritizing and results, appeared to be more active in women suffering/ history of anorexia. This was not the case with normal women in the control group.
The anorexia group portrayed abnormal worrying tendencies about the consequences of their behaviors, searched for rules in the absence of none and were extremely touchy about making mistakes.
Dr Kaye explained, "There are some positive aspects to this kind of temperament. Paying attention to detail and making sure things are done as correctly as possible are constructive traits in careers such as medicine or engineering." Extreme behaviors can cause a lot of harm, he said.
Dr Ian Frampton of Exeter University, who has been studying the MRI of patients suffering with anorexia, said: "This shows how the brain might be important in eating disorders. There may be networks in the brain that make someone vulnerable to developing an eating disorder."