Brain Volume Lost to Anorexia Reversible

WEDNESDAY June 2, 2010 -- Patients suffering from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa can actually lose brain volume, but new research suggests that, with special treatment, adult patients can regain the gray matter that they lost from relentless dieting.

"Anorexia nervosa wreaks havoc on many different parts of the body, including the brain," study author Christina Roberto, of Yale University, said in a news release. "In our study, we measured brain volume deficits among underweight patients with the illness to evaluate if the decline is reversible through short-term weight restoration."

Working out of the Columbia University Center for Eating Disorders in New York City, Roberto and her colleagues conducted MRI scans of the brains of 32 adult female inpatients diagnosed with anorexia, as well as 21 healthy women.

Anorexia patients were found to have less brain volume than healthy women, and those how had battled the psychiatric disorder the longest had the greatest gray volume deficit.

"The good news is that when women with anorexia nervosa received treatment at a specialized eating disorders inpatient unit at Columbia University, which helped them gain to a normal weight, the deficits in brain volume began to reverse over the course of only several weeks of weight gain," said Roberto. "This suggests that the reductions in brain matter volume that results from starvation can be reversed with appropriate treatment aimed at weight restoration."

"[But] there is still plenty of research to be done," she cautioned. "We do not yet have a good sense of the clinical implications of these reductions in brain volume," she said, adding that it was unclear which regions of the brain are affected and whether the loss of gray matter affects how patients function and respond to treatment.

The finding was reported online recently in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

More information

For more on anorexia, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Posted: June 2010


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