New Findings Suggest A Biological Cause For Eating Disorders
PITTSBURGH, Oct. 14 -- Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's (UPMC) Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic have found evidence supporting the possibility that an alteration of brain chemistry contributes to the development of bulimia nervosa and persists even after recovery from the disorder.
The UPMC study, authored by Walter H. Kaye, M.D., professor of psychiatry, appears in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
Women with bulimia nervosa, when bingeing and purging, are known to have alterations of brain serotonin activity and mood as well as obsessions with perfectionism. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. This study found that these alterations and symptoms persisted after recovery from bulimia nervosa, suggesting that they are not merely a consequence of abnormal eating behaviors. Theoretically, altered serotonin activity could cause anxious and obsessive behaviors and affect the control of appetite and thus contribute to a vulnerability to develop bulimia nervosa.
"The development of an eating disorder is often attributed to the effects of our cultural environment, such as the mass media, which places a heavy emphasis on slimness. But while all women are exposed to these cultural mores, only a small percentage develop an eating disorder. Our study may have identified a biological risk factor that plays a part in deciding who develops a disorder," explained Dr. Kaye. "This study is important because it will help shift focus to the underlying causes of bulimia nervosa so that we can develop better treatments in the future and possibly identify people at risk for the disorder before it occurs."
Bulimia nervosa affects about 1 to 3 percent of women and most commonly occurs
in women who are of normal body weight. Onset is usually
Contact: Craig Dunhoff
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center