Instead of merely recognizing and attempting to treat symptoms of anorexia, brain imaging redirects the focus to the “why” of food avoidance. As studies continue, medical professionals may be able to treat the cause of the problem rather than simply the behaviors. University of California at San Diego research teams are starting to put together a treatment plan specifically focusing on the neurobiology of anorexia.
Role of anxiety
One of the revelations of neurobiological studies has to do with the role of anxiety in people who suffer from anorexia. Behaviors of anorexics include failure to eat sufficient nutritional food to maintain a healthy body weight, and sometimes extreme exercising. Recent brain imaging has been able to demonstrate the extreme anxiety anorexics feel about eating. As doctors teach patients about brain alterations that indicate why a certain behavior might occur, new doors to treatment open.
Another trait of anorexics is a skewed sense of body awareness. Studies on parts of the brain that register taste and pain indicate that anorexics have a diminished response to these sensations. In one experiment, researchers discovered that the brains of anorexics register anticipation of pain at a higher level than actual pain. The same possibility exists that the brain of anorexics could numb the sensation of hunger.
As neurobiological studies of anorexia sufferers continue to develop, new treatment possibilities may emerge. More effective treatment based on these findings could help decrease the possibility of relapse in anorexic patients.