ANOREXIA: A structural brain signature?
Because the study of brain scans and specifically gray matter deficits reveal weaker deficits in partially “cured” patients vs those who are going through an acute phase of anorexia. In doing so, this broad analysis of brain imaging also confirms the importance and benefits of early intervention.
Eating disorders are often viewed as simple lifestyle choices “gone wrong” or amplified by societal pressures. These misconceptions obscure the fact that eating disorders are serious mental disorders, sometimes fatal, but which can be effectively treated with early interventions. Mortality rates for patients with eating disorders (EDs) remain high compared to other mental illnesses, especially for people with anorexia nervosa, a condition characterized by severe restriction of food intake and abnormally low body weight. People with anorexia can literally starve to death, with serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications.
The second leading cause of death in people with anorexia is suicide.
This “groundbreaking” analysis by a global team of researchers and led at the Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute reveals notable reductions in 3 critical brain measures, in these patients with anorexia:
- cortical thickness,
- subcortical volumes
- and cortical surface.
These reductions are between 2 and 4 times greater than the abnormalities in brain size and shape of people with other mental illnesses. Moreover, these reductions are particularly worrying, because they seem to involve the destruction of brain cells and/or the connections between them.
The urgent need for rapid treatment: this imaging analysis also reveals the urgency of treating people with anorexia to avoid long-term structural changes in the brain, which could lead to a variety of additional medical problems. Anorexia can be successfully treated with healthy weight gain and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Successful treatment can have a positive impact on brain structure.
By comparing nearly 2,000 brain scans of patients with anorexia, researchers find that people recovering from anorexia show less severe reductions in brain structure, suggesting that early treatment and support can help the brain repair itself.
Today, thanks to advances in neuroimaging, researchers have a better understanding of the link between serious mental disorders and brain abnormalities. By demonstrating the effects of anorexia on brain structure, this team underlines and raises awareness of the seriousness of the disease, the need for interventions, but also and always in search of more effective treatments.
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