Brain size may signal risk of developing an eating disorder

August 22, 2013

New research indicates that teens with anorexia nervosa have bigger brains than teens that do not have the eating disorder. That is according to a study by researchers at the University of Colorado's School of Medicine that examined a group of adolescents with anorexia nervosa and a group without. They found that girls with anorexia nervosa had a larger insula, a part of the brain that is active when we taste food, and a larger orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain that tells a person when to stop eating.

Guido Frank, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at CU School of Medicine, and his colleagues report that the bigger brain may be the reason people with anorexia are able to starve themselves. Similar results in children with and in adults who had recovered from the disease, raise the possibility that insula and orbitofrontal cortex brain size could predispose a person to develop eating disorders.

"While eating disorders are often triggered by the environment, there are most likely that have to come together for an individual to develop an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa," Frank says.

The researchers recruited 19 with anorexia nervosa and 22 in a control group and used (MRI) to study brain volumes. Individuals with anorexia nervosa showed greater left orbitofrontal, right insular, and bilateral temporal cortex compared to the control group. In individuals with anorexia nervosa, orbitofrontal gray matter volume related negatively with sweet tastes. An additional comparison of this study group with adults with anorexia nervosa and a healthy control group supported greater orbitofrontal cortex and insula volumes in the disorder across this age group as well.

The medial has been associated with signaling when we feel satiated by a certain type of food (so called "sensory specific satiety"). This study suggests that larger volume in this brain area could be a trait across eating disorders that promotes these individuals to stop eating faster than in healthy individuals, before eating enough.

The right insula is a region that processes taste, as well as integrates body perception and this could contribute to the perception of being fat despite being underweight.

This study is complementary to another that found adults with anorexia and individuals who had recovered from this illness also had differences in , previously published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 2013.

This study was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, July 22, 2013.

Explore further: Altered neural circuitry may lead to anorexia and bulimia

Related Stories

Altered neural circuitry may lead to anorexia and bulimia

June 4, 2013
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa—disorders characterized by extreme eating behavior and distorted body image—are among the deadliest of psychiatric disorders, with few proven effective treatments.

New approach to diagnosing anorexia nervosa

January 9, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- A new approach for diagnosing patients with anorexia nervosa has been developed at the University of Sydney. The approach could have a significant impact on the treatment and recovery of sufferers, as ...

Study shows brain function differences in women with anorexia

September 17, 2012
A new study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience by researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas and UT Southwestern found brain-based differences in how women with and without anorexia perceive ...

Does eating give you pleasure or make you anxious?

May 20, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Perhaps the most puzzling symptom of anorexia nervosa -- a disorder that tends to occur in young women -- is the refusal to eat, resulting in extreme weight loss. While most people have a great deal of ...

The incidence of eating disorders is increasing in the UK

May 20, 2013
More people are being diagnosed with eating disorders every year and the most common type is not either of the two most well known—bulimia or anorexia—but eating disorders not otherwise specified (eating disorders that ...

Estrogen replacement therapy helps reduce anxiety in anorexia nervosa

June 17, 2013
Estrogen replacement therapy is associated with a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms among girls with anorexia nervosa, a new clinical trial finds. The results will be presented today at The Endocrine Society's Annual ...

Recommended for you

To pick a great gift, it's better to give AND receive

July 28, 2017
If it's the thought that makes a gift count, here's a thought that can make your gift count extra: Get a little something for yourself.

Researchers crack the smile, describing three types by muscle movement

July 27, 2017
The smile may be the most common and flexible expression, used to reveal some emotions, cover others and manage social interactions that have kept communities secure and organized for millennia.

Even babies can tell who's the boss, UW research says

July 27, 2017
The charismatic colleague, the natural leader, the life of the party - all are personal qualities that adults recognize instinctively. These socially dominant types, according to repeated studies, also tend to accomplish ...

Ketamine for depression encouraging, but questions remain around long-term use

July 27, 2017
A world-first systematic review into the safety of ketamine as a treatment for depression, published in the prestigious Lancet Psychiatry, shows the risks of long-term ketamine treatment remain unclear.

DREAMers at greater risk for mental health distress

July 27, 2017
Immigrants who came to the United States illegally as small children and who meet the requirements of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, more commonly known as DREAMers, are at risk for mental health ...

Negativity, be gone—new online tool can retrain your brain

July 27, 2017
Anxiety and depression can have devastating effects on people's lives. In some cases, the mental disorders lead to isolation, poverty and poor physical health, things that often cascade to future generations.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.