Life After Recovery

Reclaiming your self after an eating disorder

From Fruit Flies to Anorexia

What if this were a metabolic deviation and not a psychological condition?

 

You never know what you'll get to be grateful for. 

That's a refrain I hear all the time from my best friend, who's lived for more than twenty years with non-Hodgkins-lymphoma, and the other day she sent me news to feel grateful for that truly knocked me sideways.  Several years ago she gave a copy of my book Gaining to her next door neighbor, who in turn shared it with her brother, Eric Aamodt, a molecular biologist at Louisiana State University. Reading the book, Eric was intrigued by the description of anorexia nervosa as a condition with genetic and biological roots.  He shared the book with his colleague, Donard Dwyer, and they got to talking about the possible role of insulin-signaling pathways in the development of anorexia. 

What if, they wondered, there were people who became anorexic in response to starvation, just as there are people whose diabetes is triggered by obesity?  What if this were a metabolic deviation and not, primarily, a psychological condition?

Aamodt and Dwyer spearheaded a review of existing research examining starvation responses ranging from yeast and fruit flies to humans.  The resulting   theoretical paper was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, and has been getting quite a bit of press!

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In a nutshell, their findings suggest that anorexia nervosa "is primarily a metabolic disorder caused by defective regulation of the starvation response, which leads to ambivalence towards food, decreased food consumption and characteristic psychopathology...Initial bouts of caloric restriction may alter the production of neurotransmitters that regulate appetite and food-seeking behavior and thus, set in motion a vicious cycle."

Or, as the popular press sums up the theory: "it's not stubbornness or a mental disorder that keeps anorexics from eating, it's their own bodies."

Here are additional links for information about the review:
http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/05/27/anorexia-disease-like-diabetes-scientists-say/
 http://www.americablog.com/2011/05/is-anorexia-biological-disorder.html
 http://jezebel.com/5806626/is-anorexia-a-disorder-of-the-mind-or-metabolism

 

Aimee Liu is the author of Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders, which draws on her and others' struggles with eating disorders.

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