Teens with anorexia nervosa have bigger brains than teens that do not have the eating disorder, according to researchers at the University of Colorado's School of Medicine. Their study appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Specifically, they found that girls with anorexia nervosa had a larger insula, a part of the brain that is active when we taste food, and a larger orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain that tells a person when to stop eating.
The researchers think that the bigger insula may be the reason people with anorexia are able to starve themselves. Similar findings in children with anorexia nervosa and in adults who had recovered from the disease, raise the possibility that insula and orbitofrontal cortex brain size could predispose a person to develop eating disorders.
"While eating disorders are often triggered by the environment, there are most likely biological mechanisms that have to come together for an individual to develop an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa," said CU researcher Guido Frank.
In other research, the medial orbitofrontal cortex has been associated with signaling when we feel satiated by a certain type of food. This study suggests that larger volume in this brain area could be a trait across eating disorders that causes these individuals to stop eating more quickly, before they have eaten enough.
Frank also notes that the right insula is a brain region that processes taste, as well as integrating body perception. He believes this area could contribute to a sufferer's perception of being fat despite being underweight.
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Source: University of Colorado Denver