neurobiological findings about anorexia nervosaRecent neurobiological findings about anorexia nervosa show that during low body weight, the anorexic’s brain can be damaged with loss of brain tissue and volume. Studies have revealed individuals, prior to onset and during anorexia, experience anxiety while eating; yet find relief in restricting food intake. This suggests that lower levels of serotonin (which fuels the body to stay calm) can encourage depression or anxiety and dopamine system dysfunction (causing them to not feel the usual reward after eating). Therefore, not eating becomes a form of self-medication for the anorexic. By restricting food intake, the anorexic actually feels less anxious and not desirous of food. It has been speculated that this could be a reason that anorexics can literally starve themselves to death.

However, with proper therapy, time and nutrition, recent and exciting neurobiological research has revealed that anorexics, who had an inability to accurately assess their appearance, the insula part of their brain (which connects their external reality to their internal acceptance) can be restored (Kaye, et al., 2010). There is clear evidence that the brain continually adapts and reorganizes itself through its plasticity. It’s like Silly Putty; it can create new shapes or go back to its old shape. Recent research reveals the brain’s plasticity; that the brain can actually rewire itself returning to a somewhat normal functional state after destructive or harmful changes.

Overall, for the anorexic, food is medicine. Being in supportive and loving environments, treating oneself in a loving way, and medication are all medicine too … helping the brain to change.