New findings on eating disorders

New findings on eating disorders

By Liz Lockhart

A contributory factor to anorexia nervosa and bulimia may be a brain malfunction that leads to deficits in endocannabinoids, a new study suggests.

Endocannabinoids affect brain function in a similar way to cannabis derivatives, including marijuana and hashish.  Whilst these drugs are often used recreationally, they are associated with causing hunger known as ‘the munchies.’  This would suggest that deficits in the brain could logically be associated with reduced appetite.

The study researchers measured the status of the endocannabinoid system by determining whether there was an increase or decrease in the density of endocannabinoid receptors, called the CB1 receptor.

Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging was used by the researchers to study several brain regions.  The densities of these were compared in women with anorexia or bulimia with those of healthy women.

Researchers found evidence of deficits in endocannabinoid levels or reduced CB1 receptor function in the brains of women with anorexia nervosa.  Cb1R availability was also increased in the brain region called the insula in both anorexia and bulimia sufferers.

The study lead author, Dr. Koen Van Laere, explained that the insula ‘is a region that integrates body perception, gustatory information, reward and emotion, functions known to be disturbed in these patients.’

The study is reported in Biological Psychiatry.

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, added ‘The role of endocannabinoids in appetite control is clearly important.  These new data point to important connections between this system and eating disorders.’

The researchers hope that their findings may lead to a potential target for developing drugs to treat eating disorders.  Additional research is now needed to determine whether the changes which were found are caused by the disease or whether these alterations serve as risk factors for developing an eating disorder.

Source: Elsevier 

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