Brain biomarkers could provide the ammunition to fight eating disorders

February 26, 2015, University of Reading

During Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Dr Ciara McCabe, neuroscientist at the University of Reading, says we need more understanding of the neurobiology of these disorders if we are to develop new, effective treatments.

"Eating disorders are devastating conditions. Anorexia kills more people than any other mental health condition - up to 20% of those suffering from the condition die from it. Figures from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence suggest that 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder, of which around 11% are male.

"So we should welcome Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's recent pledge of an extra £150m to help children with . These funds will be used 'to invest in preventative therapy to cut the need for hospital treatment'.

"Good news. But a note of caution - disorders such as are still a long way off from being treated effectively. There are no drugs that specifically target anorexia and not all psychological treatments work long-term - relapses, sadly, are very common.

"What is holding us back? The of these disorders still elude us. Why do one group of people have no control over what they eat and another have complete control? We simply don't know.

"Understanding these mechanisms is crucial for developing more effective and novel treatments - this is what the Deputy Prime Minister should be aiming for.

"Here at Reading we are trying to make progress in this area. Our research is revealing how the brain's response to rewards such as food, might provide clues to understanding the mechanisms underlying eating disorders.

"Early studies have shown that those who have anorexia nervosa have differences in how they respond to food, in both the brain's reward centres and areas involved in control. This offers exciting possibilities for detecting biological markers of eating disorders.

"In our follow-up research we found that those who suffered from anorexia nervosa in the past have differences in how their brain responds to pleasant chocolate taste - this despite having no subjective difference in wanting or liking of the food compared to never ill controls. So could these differences be trait markers, something in the brain that could be used to further our understanding of why people develop anorexia nervosa?

"Our current project is combining our brain reward knowledge with previous studies which suggest a link between family members. Preliminary results suggest the brains' of sisters of patients respond to food tastes and pictures differently than people with no family history of anorexia, despite having never experienced the disorder themselves.

"These results help us find neural markers that can be detected before illness onset. However longitudinal studies need to be done to investigate if the differences we see in the brain can predict illness development.

"Understanding how the brain responds to food, and how this might be related to eating disorder pathology, could pave the way for the development of new, life-changing eating disorder treatments."

Explore further: Brain size may signal risk of developing an eating disorder

Related Stories

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 ...

New research underlines the importance of getting help before chronicity sets in

February 8, 2015
A study led by Howard Steiger, PhD, head of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute Eating Disorders Program (EDP), in Montreal, in collaboration with Linda Booij, a researcher with Sainte-Justine Hospital and an assistant ...

Socialising difficulty in anorexia to guide treatment

August 14, 2014
In their investigation of eating disorders and interpersonal problems, researchers have found anorexia nervosa patients have significantly greater difficulties with socialising and assertiveness than those with bulimia nervosa, ...

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 ...

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.

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 ...

Recommended for you

Study finds popular 'growth mindset' educational interventions aren't very effective

May 22, 2018
A new study co-authored by researchers at Michigan State University and Case Western Reserve University found that "growth mindset interventions," or programs that teach students they can improve their intelligence with effort—and ...

Schizophrenics' blood has more genetic material from microbes

May 22, 2018
The blood of schizophrenia patients features genetic material from more types of microorganisms than that of people without the debilitating mental illness, research at Oregon State University has found.

Kids show adult-like intuition about ownership

May 22, 2018
Children as young as age three are able to make judgements about who owns an object based on its location, according to a study from the University of Waterloo.

Age-related racial disparity in suicide rates among US youth

May 21, 2018
New research suggests the suicide rate is roughly two times higher for black children ages 5-12 compared with white children of the same age group. The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), appears ...

Schizophrenia more prevalent away from green spaces

May 21, 2018
People who grew up without green spaces are 50 per cent more likely to develop schizophrenia compared with those who grew up surrounded by greenery.

Cannabis—it matters how young you start

May 18, 2018
Canadian researchers find that boys who start smoking pot before 15 are much more likely to have a drug problem at 28 than those who start at 15 or after.

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.