Brain Function is Different in Anorexic Women, Study Says

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Researchers from the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas, Dallas and University of Texas, Southwestern, discovered brain-based differences in women suffering from anorexia.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes an individual to obsess about his or her weight. Many individuals suffering from anorexia may starve themselves in order to prevent weight gain.

Researchers used fMRI to observe the brain function in participants. Women were instructed to evaluate their own characteristics compared to a friend. The study tasks included self-evaluation, friend evaluation and reflected evaluation, which assessed an attribute about one's self as perceived by a friend. 

The stduy was led by researchers Dr. Dan Krawczyk, associate professor at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and psychiatry at UT Southwestern, and Dr. Carrie McAdams, assistant psychiatry professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center, 

According to Dr.Krawczyk, women who are suffering from anorexia demonstrated different types of brain activation compared to non-anorexic women.

"These differences in understandings of oneself may lead to and perpetuate the problematic eating behaviors of those with anorexia. This is important because it further validates the idea that anorexia is not just about food behaviors, but rather it is about how individuals see themselves and link it to social perception," Dr. Krawczyk said.

When participants expressed self-knowledge, such as "I am," or "I look," and perspective talking, such as, "I believe," or "a friend believes," researchers observed changes in the brains precuneus, more specifically the dorsal anterior cingulate and the left middle frontal gyrus. This particular region supports evidence that the precuneus is associated with self-consciousness and reflective awareness.

Both Dr.Krawczyk and Dr. McAdams hopes this new information can help physicians to implement timely and effective prevention and treatment for women suffering from anorexia.

"We are now working to compare how these brain pathways function in both currently ill and fully recovered individuals who have had anorexia nervosa, with the hope of observing whether changes in these brain regions can be associated with recovery," Dr. Krawczyk said.

The study was published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

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