Why people with eating disorders can override desire for food

10th Nov 2016

A new study published in natures journal, Translational Psychiatry, suggest neurological reasons why people with Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa are able to override the urge to eat.

The researchers found that the normal patterns of appetite stimulation in the brain are effectively reversed in those with eating disorders. Rather than the hypothalamus, a brain region involved in regulating appetite, driving motivation to eat, signals from other brain parts override the hypothalamus. 

The study involved 26 healthy women and 26 women with eating disorders. Using brain scans, the researchers examined how both groups reacted to tasting a sugary solution.

They found that those with anorexia or bulimia had widespread alterations in the structure of brain pathways governing taste-reward and appetite regulation. These alterations were in the white matter, which coordinates communication between different parts of the brain. In people with eating disorders,the pathways to the hypothalamus were significantly weaker and the direction of information went in the opposite direction, as to those without an eating disorder. 

As a result of these alterations, people with eating disorders, may be able to override the hypothalamus and fend off the signals to eat.

Researchers now suggest that being afraid to eat certain foods, sweet things as a fear to gaining weight, could impact the taste-reward processing mechanisms in the brain which could then reduce the influence of the hypothalamus.

Future research in this area will look at children to see when the alterations begin to form, and to potentially create a mechanisms to stop this happening.

To read more, please visit the Translational Psychiatry website

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