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Brain's Reward Response Could Impact Anorexia Nervosa: Everything You Need To Know About Anorexia

As per a new study, the brain's response to taste stimulus can be linked to anxiety and a drive for thinness which could trigger anorexia nervosa. Here's what you need to know about anorexia.

Brains Reward Response Could Impact Anorexia Nervosa: Everything You Need To Know About Anorexia

Many people who have anorexia see themselves as overweight even though they might in fact be underweight


  1. People between the ages of 14 and 25 have the highest risk of anorexia
  2. Anorexia can be hereditary
  3. Stressful life events such as divorce of parents can cause anorexia

As per a new study, the brain's response to taste stimulus can be linked to anxiety and a drive for thinness which could trigger anorexia nervosa. These patients controlled their diet which is a brain reward response, liked to neurotransmitter dopamine which triggers anxiety. Due to this, the effort to avoid food becomes worse and it perpetuates the deadly disease. Researchers discovered that the brain's response was much higher in the controlled group which presented a biomarker for the illness. The brain's response too was linked to high levels of anxiety and weight gain in patients receiving treatment for anorexia nervosa. When a person loses weight, the brain's response goes up. But instead of driving eating habits, it triggers anxiety in patients which makes them want to control themselves even more. This becomes a vicious cycle. It was found that higher brain response was linked to lower weight gain during treatment. This could change the brain circuits and affect taste rewarding mechanisms. Due to this, patients who are already worried about their shape and weight become more concerned. It was also noted in the study that while most people like sweet treats, eating disorder patients link it with weight gain and hence try to avoid it. It was noted that brain activation in anorexia patients was inversely linked to the pleasant experiences of consuming sugar.

Anorexia nervosa, often referred to as anorexia, is a mental disorder caused by an extreme emotional distress that gets expressed through an eating disorder in which the person has a fear of gaining weight and has a strong desire to be thin, resulting in food restriction. Many people who have anorexia see themselves as overweight even though they might, in fact, be underweight. It often begins with stress or trauma. Self-worth becomes a measure of weight and appearance rather than talent in the person. You might be thinking that everyone feels conscious of their body from time to time or even constantly, so what's the big deal? Well, a person suffering from anorexia, channels their emotional distress to the extreme and punishes himself by either not eating or taking a laxative, or even extreme exercising, which eventually becomes fatal to their health and live.

What are the symptoms of anorexia? 

Symptoms may include:

1. A low body mass index for one's age and height

2. Rapid and continuous weight loss

3. Always counting the calorie intake and monitoring the fat intake

4. Cooking extensive dinner for others but not eating the food themselves.

5. Food restrictions even when being underweight.

6. Obsession with their weight and weight loss.

7. Food rituals: Cutting food into tiny pieces, not eating around others, hiding food etc.

8. Excessive exercise

9. Perception of being overweight.

10. Intolerance to cold and frequent complaints of being cold.

11. Dry hair and skin, as well as hair thinning.

12. Chronic fatigue

13. Mood swings

14. Self-harming or self-loathing

15. Admiration of thinner people.

What causes anorexia?

Like all mental illnesses, it's influenced maybe environmental, genetic, biological or even psychological.

1. Anorexia is highly heritable

2. Our culture promotes slender and thin figure for women's body shape. This can lead to body dissatisfaction and induce risk for anorexia.

3. Abuse or neglect, including bullying (at school, home or work)

4. Stressful life events such as the divorce of parents, fights etc can also cause anorexia.

5. Predisposition to depression, anxiety, perfectionism or self-blame.


Anorexia can be diagnosed by taking the following tests:

Complete Blood Count (CBC): a test of the white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. It is used to assess the presence of various disorders such as leukocytosis, leukopenia, thrombocytosis, and anemia which may result from malnutrition.

Urinalysis: a variety of tests performed on the urine used in the diagnosis of medical disorders, to test for substance abuse, and as an indicator of overall health


Anorexia has a lot of complications and even prove to be fatal if it occurs in young children or pre-teen because they are yet to be fully developed. If onset occurs before the completion of growth, pubertal maturation, or the attainment of peak bone mass. Height gain may deaccelerate and can completely stop after extreme weight loss. It alters the female reproductive system. Significant weight loss may result in menopause for teens. Neurological disorders that may occur as complications include seizures and tremors.

Anorexia also increases the risk of arrhythmias, abnormally slow heartbeat, low blood pressure, reduced heart volume. Though, the conditions generally improve with recovery.

Is there any treatment for anorexia? 

Why, yes! Anorexia can be treated but it is not realized until the later stages. Early interventions can be beneficial, but at the same time they are very difficult, as the notion of being thin is very strong in the head of an anorexic.

Psychotherapy for individuals can be very challenging as well, as they have their mind set on being thin and might resist this change. It is better to introduce family based therapy in adolescents rather than individual therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is useful in adolescents and adults with anorexia nervosa; Acceptance and commitment therapy is a type of CBT, which has shown promise in the treatment of anorexia.

Treatment with drugs is of little help in anorexia as it is the notion that needs to be changed in the anorexic's mind.

Pharmaceuticals have limited benefit for anorexia itself.

Who is most prone to anorexia?

It most commonly starts in teenage girls but it can occur at any age and 11% of sufferers are male. It is also being seen in children as young as 6 years old. People between the ages of 14 and 25 are believed to be the most at risk. The average onset is said to be 16-17 yet many cases involve children with young age. Recovery is seen only in about less than 50% of the cases, in which about 30% improve and the rest remain chronically ill.

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With inputs from ANI


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