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Anorexia Nervosa Health Center

Brain Differences in Women With Anorexia?

Brain Scans Show Differences That May Explain Some Anorexic Traits
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July 8, 2005 -- The eating disorder anorexia nervosa may be tied to the brain.

Researchers recently compared brain imaging of healthy women with those who had been anorexic in the past.

The images showed that the former anorexia patients had increased activity in brain areas that make dopamine.

Dopamine is a chemical involved in weight, feeding behaviors, reinforcement, and reward.

"This finding might help explain why individuals with anorexia nervosa are able to lose weight, resist eating, overexercise, are protected from substance abuse, and are insensitive to normal rewards," write the researchers.

Their study appears in Biological Psychology's online edition.

About Anorexia

Anorexia is an eating disorder with both physical and emotional traits including:

  • Severely limited food intake
  • Distorted body image
  • Refusal to maintain a normal body weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight despite being very underweight

Long-term or severe anorexia can lead to serious health problems. It can even be fatal.

Anorexia's cause is not known. Recovery is possible with proper treatment.

Both men and women can have anorexia or other eating disorders.

Women with anorexia may have infrequent or absent menstrual periods. They may not be able to have normal menstrual cycles until they regain a healthy weight.

An estimated 0.5% to 3.7% of women have anorexia at some point during their lives, states the web site of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The NIMH does not provide numbers for men with anorexia.

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