Scientists have uncovered the reason why those suffering from anorexia or bulimia nervosa can forgo the urge to eat.
According to research published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, typical patterns of appetite stimulation in the brain are reversed in the men and women who live with an eating disorder. In fact, signals from other parts of the brain override the hypothalamus — a portion of the brain responsible for producing hormones that control different functions of the body, including hunger.
In a small study that consisted of 77 women — 26 with restricting-type anorexia nervosa, 25 with bulimia nervosa, and 26 healthy women for comparison — investigators looked at how their brains responded to consuming a sugary solution via a brain scan. The tests resulted showed that the pathways to the hypothalamus were “significantly weaker” and that the information traveled in the opposite direction in the females with an eating disorder.
And there’s a reason why sweets were chosen as the sample food — it’s understood that humans are programmed at birth to enjoy the taste of sweet treats. Since many of those with eating disorders tend to avoid sugary foods, the researchers theorized that their eating behaviors could alter brain circuits, ultimately affecting the abilities of the hypothalamus.
We asked the study author if he and his colleagues were surprised to discover these findings. “Let me rather say that we were very excited to see results that would support the ‘mind-over-matter’ idea or concept,” Guido Frank, M.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Beauty.
Frank further states that the next steps in future research are already in motion and may one day lead to better treatment options for people struggling with anorexia and bulimia nervosa. “We are exploring whether we can find those results also in children and adolescents,” he says. “We want to replicate the results in adults. And most importantly, we want to see whether we can use this approach as a marker for treatment success in the future — maybe giving us an objective marker for treatment success.”