CogniFit's Science blog: New Brain Research Shows The Implications Of Eating Disorders

New Brain Research Shows The Implications Of Eating Disorders

As many as 10 million females and 1 million males suffer from some kind of eating disorder today.

For some there is the constant drive to be thin while others it is a mere sickness. And while there are countless negative implications that can come from eating disorders, new brain research shows it can greatly impact the mind and brain as well.

Bulimia nervosa is one of the many severe eating disorders people suffer from. It is associated specifically with episodic binge eating that follows someone who has avoided weight gain one way or another. To this point it has been perplexing how brain function could possibly be involved in bulimia.

However, a new study by professors in the psychiatry and neuroscience departments at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus found different. They studied the brain response to a dopamine related reward-learning task in bulimic and healthy women. What was found was that bulimic women had a weakened response in brain regions that are part of the reward circuitry.

The brain research found the response to be related to the frequency of binge/purge episodes. Those who went through overeating episodes found a weaker response that set off a horrendous cycle of altered brain function.

So what is the significance of this? The study found they directly implicate the brain reward system while relating dopamine function in the disorder. It also found that bulimic behavior directly affects the brain reward function. Whether or not such alterations return to normal with recovery or not is still unknown. Lastly, the brain research found that brain dopamine can be a treatment target in bulimia nervosa by using specific medications targeting abnormalities.

Studies in neuroscience are constantly being conducted to better understand bulimia, anorexia and other eating disorders that millions of people of all ages suffer from. While this was the first study that suggests brain dopamine related to reward circuitry may have a role in bulimia nervosa, there is sure to be many that follow.

It has proven that reduced activation in the network in bulimic women exists and the more often someone goes through a binge episode, the less responsive the brain is. As a result, an eating disorder behavior may be directly affecting brain function. There is still a great deal of time, energy and research that must be done to further explain these startling findings. But the initial brain research conducted in this study has paved the road for tremendous future research.