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Monday, June 14, 2010

Bad news and good news about anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive weight loss. If untreated, patients can become extremely ill and even die. Unfortunately, the brain is not immune from the effects of the disorder. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the effect on brain size appears to be reversible.

Christina Roberto and her colleagues from Yale, Columbia, and the University of Cambridge, compared the brains of 32 anorexic inpatients at the Columbia University Center for Eating Disorders. The anorexic patients had less gray matter, as observed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), than 21 normal cohorts. The longer the women had AN, the greater the decrease in brain volume.

As the patients were treated and regained weight, their brain volumes increased. In only a couple of weeks, the patients’ gray matter was significantly restored. Researchers are not sure what sorts of cognitive effects the loss of brain volume has on people. However, they are encouraged that those effects may be reversible with proper treatment.