A recent study on Anorexia Nervosa revealed how drastically this Eating Disorder affects the brain. People with Anorexia Nervosa harbor a powerful fear of gaining weight. Many people in general will struggle with being overweight at some point in their lives and want to lose weight. However, for people with this eating disorder, persistently being underweight becomes an obsession detrimental to their physical health. In the past, though, it has been less clear how being underweight affects this brain. This study sheds new light on that.
The study compared the brain scans of people with Anorexia to those of people in the healthy weight range who did not have an eating disorder. The Anorexia group had two sub-groups: people who had at least partially recovered from Anorexia Nervosa and people who were still severely affected by it.
Overall, the comparison revealed that people with Anorexia Nervosa had reduced brain volume in multiple critical areas relative to healthy controls. This is also called “pseudoatrophy.” Long-term low weight harmed regions throughout the brain.
It hit from areas the govern basic functions of a body to those that manage the high-level complex thought and personality. It included the gray matter, the part of the brain that contains the main bodies of the brain cells. Incidentally, this is also the part of the brain most affected by heavy drinking.
Being underweight negatively affected intelligence as well. Worst of all, it seems the brain changes in Anorexia Nervosa were more severe than in any other psychiatric disorder the researchers had examined.
Reversible brain changes
All these brain changes are really concerning. However, the good news is that they seem to be reversible. The study compared people who had regained some of their lost weight with another group of people who had not. When people gained weight back after being underweight, the changes in their brain began to reverse themselves.
Time is a factor, though. Other studies have shown that this ability for the brain to heal is most prominent in younger patients. Additionally, these studies have not looked at people who were underweight for extended periods of time. It’s unknown if these brain changes can be undone if people are underweight for many years. The damage could be permanent.
Dangers of eating disorders
This all highlights how truly dangerous Anorexia Nervosa is. It is one of the most deadly mental health issues. Without treatment, 1 in 5 people with Anorexia will die of the disease. Even the process of regaining weight can be scary – and require hospitalization – if someone is under 75% of their ideal body weight. After that, the treatment team consists of a psychiatrist, a therapist, and a dietitian. Though the way back to health is tough, it’s worth it, both for your body and your mind.