Anorexia: new frontiers in research and treatment





Studies in anorexia have found a possible genetic link. A recent piece of research published in Molecular Psychiatry on DNA with 3,000 cases discovered that there is a genetic mutation that inhibits the metabolism of cholesterol. This in turn has a negative effect on mood. People with anorexia tend to have high cholesterol levels despite adhering to a strict calorie-controlled diet.


With only 30% of anorexia patients being able to make a full recovery and 10% sadly dying of the condition, a drug treatment targeting the malfunctioning gene could bring new hope.


In the UK, 60,000 people are anorexic (90% are women) while in the US 24 million people suffer with the condition.


Still, anorexia is a complex condition and social pressures come into play too.


To address behavioural issues caused by anorexia, new research from Stanford University has found an innovative way to engage patients who are not complying with the eating guidelines.


Researcher and entrepreneur Jenna Tregarthen developed a smartphone app to keep an interactive food diary. The idea was to engage young patients (the condition tends to develop during teenage years) and raise the levels of compliance to the therapeutic eating plan.


Tregarthen is working with clinicians so they can prescribe the app as a therapeutic tool. The interactive food diary records meal times and quantities and rewards patients when they achieve their goals. The application is also being tested for other diseases affecting moods like depression, obsessive compulsion disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.


Talking of obsessive compulsion disorder, two recent studies have explored the links between autism and anorexia: one in Molecular Autism and one in European Eating Disorders Review. Young people with eating disorders, particularly anorexia and bulimia, show some autistic traits in the form of obsessive behaviours and recognising other people’s emotions.


Anorexic patients tend to have strict rules on what they are allowed to eat and in which quantity and adhere to their self-imposed rules by the letter. In some anorexia cases following a therapeutic healthy eating plan and improving a patient’s nutrition results in a better understanding of the patient of other people’s emotions.


With each patient having unique personality and behavioural traits, only a tailored approach will work. Cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, coaching are vital tools to support anorexia patients.


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