Understanding why some people develop anorexia while others do not is largely unknown, although biological factors are widely known. These new findings, based on an extensive brain scan analysis of patients around the world and published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, provide some answer to the question.
They reveal that people with anorexia have a “significant reduction” in three critical brain measurements: cortical thickness, subcortical volume, and cortical area. The reduction in brain size is significant because it is believed to mean the loss of brain cells or connections between them.
The results are some of the clearest as yet unproven links between structural changes in the brain and eating disorders. The group says the magnitude of the effects of their anorexia study is, in fact, the largest of the psychiatric disorders studied to date.
This means that the size and shape of the brains of people with anorexia decreased by two to four times more than those of people with conditions such as depression, ADHD or OCD. The changes in brain size observed in anorexia may be due to a decrease in human body mass index (BMI).
Based on the results, the group emphasizes the importance of early treatment to help people with anorexia avoid long-term structural changes in the brain. Current treatment typically includes forms of cognitive behavioral therapy and, crucially, weight gain. Many people with anorexia are successfully treated, and these results indicate a positive effect of such treatment on brain structure.
Their study combined nearly 2,000 previous brain scans in people with anorexia, including recovering and ‘healthy’ people (people who are not anorexic or recovering). In people recovering from anorexia, the study found that the deterioration in brain structure was milder, suggesting that with appropriate early treatment and support, the brain may be able to repair itself.
Leading researcher, Dr Esther Walton From the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, he explained: “In this study, we worked intensively for several years with research teams around the world.
“We found that the large deteriorations in brain structure we observed in patients were less noticeable in patients who were already recovering. This is a good sign because it suggests that the changes may not be permanent. With proper treatment, the brain may be able to recover.”
The research team also included researchers working at the Technical University of Dresden, Germany; Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, New York; and King’s College London.
The group worked together as part of the ENIGMA Eating Disorders Working Group led by the University of Southern California. The ENIGMA Consortium is an international company that brings together researchers in imaging genomics, neurology, and psychiatry to understand the connection between brain structure, function, and mental health.
“The international scale of this work is exceptional,” he said Paul Thompson, Professor of Neurology and Leading Researcher in the ENIGMA Consortium. “Researchers from 22 centers around the world combined their brain scans to create the most detailed picture to date of how anorexia affects the brain. The brain changes in anorexia were more severe than in any other psychiatric condition we studied. The effects of treatments and interventions can now be assessed using these new brain maps as a reference.”
He added: “This study is new to the thousands of brain scans analyzed, and it reveals that anorexia affects the brain more profoundly than any other psychiatric illness. This is truly a wake-up call that shows people with early intervention. Eating disorders.”
Source: The Nordic Page