Brain Chemicals Linked to Anxiety and Eating Disorders
Reprinted from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Fall 2005 Volume 3, Number 4
©2005 Gürze Books
There is increasing evidence that chemical abnormalities within the brain make some women more vulnerable to eating disorders and anxiety.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh recently reported that recovered anorexics show increased dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical involved in weight, feeding behaviors, reinforcement, and reward. Now, there are new reports that women who have recovered from eating disorders also show abnormal levels of serotonin. Both chemicals are closely tied to appetite, mood, and impulse control, which are altered in people with eating disorders.
The study, published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry, compared the brain activity of serotonin in women who had recovered from one of two types of anorexia. Walter Kaye and colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine looked at both the restricting-type of anorexia, characterized by severely restricting food intake alone, and bulimia-type anorexia, characterized by restrictive eating coupled with episodes of bingeing and purging.
Included in the study were 13 women who had recovered from restricting-type anorexia and 12 who had recovered from bulimia-type anorexia at least a year earlier. Eighteen healthy women with no history of eating disorders were also evaluated.
The study suggests that women who have certain types of anorexia have alterations in serotonin even one year or more after recovery. Using brain scans, the researchers also reported increased activity in a specific serotonin receptor among women recovered from bulimia-type anorexia.
In women recovering from restrictive-type anorexia, receptor overactivity was strongly associated with a type of anxiety called harm avoidance. These individuals tend to be very careful and precise, and they pay close attention to detail. This can be a big plus after recovery, says Kaye, who adds that these characteristics are sought in many professions.