Eating disorders are on the rise in the United States, prompting calls for better diagnosis and treatment options. Unfortunately, eating disorders remain complex and mysterious, and can affect many different populations. This can make screening, diagnosis, and treatment much more challenging for patients, families, and providers.
New studies show just how complex disordered eating can be. While disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are considered mental illnesses, they may involve many physical functions, as well. Let’s take a look at what researchers are finding.
The liver and the hypothalamus may be involved in food intake.
New research shows that the brain and the liver may work together to create feelings of hunger and drive eating behaviors. In a study of mice, researchers examined a group of nerve cells in the hypothalamus, known as agouti-related peptide (AgRP) neurons. AgRP neurons help regulate lysophosphatidic acid (LPA), a chemical compound involved in brain signals that can lead to hunger and eating.
LPA is formed when the blood converts lysophosphatidyl choline (LPC), a type of lipid secreted by the liver. AgRP neurons communicate with the cerebral cortex, as well as the liver and other parts of the body, to release lipids from the body’s fat stores.
Researchers explained in Nature Metabolism that, when they inhibited AgRP expression in mice, the mice showed reduced LPA and less hunger. If humans have a similar route, in which AgRP neurons regulate the liver’s release of lipids that trigger appetite, it may lead to better treatments for binge eating behaviors.
Gut health may be linked to anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders.
Eating disorders are often co-occurring with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or anxiety disorders. Research also has linked both of these conditions with gut health.
A team of German researchers pointed out connections between gut bacteria and eating disorders in The Psychiatric Clinics of North America. This gut bacteria, or gut biome, is involved in digestion, hormones, inflammation, the immune system, and behavior. Changes in the variety and levels of helpful gut bacteria have been associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
Serotonin, a chemical involved in mood, also may be involved. Too much or not enough serotonin has been linked to a number of eating disorders. Ninety percent of the body’s serotonin is released from the gastrointestinal system, so a healthy gut may help with serotonin levels, and thus help manage or reduce the risk of eating disorders.
Chronic illness with dietary treatments could increase the risk of eating disorders.
Many health conditions can be managed through diet, such as type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel diseases. For children with these conditions, however, the restrictive dieting required may lead to habits that increase the risk of an eating disorder later in life. This can then put the individual at risk of worse medical outcomes.
Researchers conducted a review of studies that looked at the link between diet-treated chronic illness and disordered eating, and found an association between the two. The authors called for further research into this link, including the mechanisms that could turn standard treatment practices into pathological eating. The findings appear in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
Eating disorders are complex conditions, and each client with disordered eating requires a unique treatment plan. BestNotes’s OutcomeTools feature helps you assess, track, and analyze clients’ history and information, so you can make more informed treatment decisions and achieve better outcomes. Get in touch with us today to learn more.