Recent months have brought some exciting research developments related to eating disorders, helping us better understand certain risk factors for specific populations – while paving the way for more effective types of treatment.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:
News about risk factors that need to be targeted in prevention programs
We now know more than ever about potential predictors of anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), or binge eating disorder (BED) diagnoses. A recent study followed 1,300 young women with body dissatisfaction for three years and found that negative affect (emotional distress) and impaired interpersonal functioning predicted onset of all eating disorder types. This study points to the need for targeted prevention programs aimed at these high risk populations.
Is there a link between Eating Disorders and Autoimmune and other chronic Disorders?
Studies have revealed a link between eating disorders and auto-immune conditions, including celiac disease. In one study, researchers in Sweden compared the medical records of 18,000 women diagnosed with celiac disease to 89,000 women without celiac disease. Those with celiac disease were almost twice as likely to be later diagnosed with anorexia. It’s possible that the initial attempt to control celiac disease with a restricted diet develops into food restricting symptoms of anorexia. Clinicians should carefully initially assess and follow up in cases of auto-immune disorders or chronic conditions that lead to changes in appetite and body mass.
New Hope for Treating Binge Eating Disorder?
Vyvanse is a new prescription medicine used to treat moderate to severe binge eating disorder in adults. An eight-week randomized controlled trial (McElroy et al., 2015) on 260 adults with binge eating disorder led to significant decreases in binge episodes and a higher binge eating cessation among adults in the Vyvanse group, compared with a placebo group. Vyvanse was also shown to decrease binge eating severity and related obsessive-compulsive and impulsive features.
New research also focuses on integrative therapies that may be helpful when used in tandem with traditional therapies. One recent meta-analysis summarized the literature on the impact of mindfulness-based interventions on binge eating behavior. After evaluating 19 different studies, researchers concluded that overall, mindfulness-based interventions can be considered an effective means to reduce binge eating episodes. Most of these studies, though, followed patients for only three to six months, so research with longer follow-up periods are worth watching.
Is There a Better Understanding Around Neuroscience and Genetics?
The intersection between biology and eating disorders continues to evolve, thanks to new technologies exploring brain pathway function. Recent studies have focused on this area, with a few notable researchers such as Dr. Walter Kaye, Director of University of California San Diego Eating Disorder Program and Dr. Joanna Steinglass of New York-Presbyterian/Columbia and Assistant Professor at Columbia University College of Phys & Surg manning the helm. In fact, a recent study in Asia shows that patients with eating disorders consistently exhibit abnormal brain processes related to appetite, emotion, reward and cognitive control.
Additionally, researchers uncovered another genetic component to anorexia nervosa. In a novel study, researchers took stem cells from anorexia patients and converted them into brain cells, ultimately comparing them to cells taken from participants without anorexia. Through this, the researchers identified a specific gene, TACR1 (tachykinin 1 receptor), that appears to contribute to anorexia development. TACR1 had previously been associated with psychiatric conditions, especially anxiety disorders, but this was the first time it was associated with anorexia.
Our hope is that these studies will further advance our knowledge on the complexities around eating disorders and related mental health conditions – and at the end of the day, provide more effective and accessible treatment options for those in need.
If you would like more information about emerging eating disorder research or about Walden Center’s research collaborations, please e-mail info@WaldenCenter.org or follow us on Twitter! We’ll continue to keep you posted on the latest research findings!
Priya Prabhakar, MD, MPH, MBA is the Associate Director of Walden Center for Education and Research (WCER). In this role, she is responsible for leading communication with universities, independent researchers and funders with the aim of cultivating, growing, and sustaining long-term funding and collaboration. Additionally, she is responsible for managing strategic plans at all stages from concept development, review process, grants contracting and Research compliance. She received her medical degree at I. M. Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy, Russia and her Masters in Public Health and Business Administration in University of Texas and Bentley University respectively. Dr. Prabhakar is also a visiting Researcher in Department of Brain and Psychological sciences at Boston University.
Courtney Bean is pursuing a Master of Public Health degree in Dietetics at UMass Lowell. Currently, she is a student intern in the Walden Center for Education and Research. In this role she is responsible for literature review, creating data tools, data collection and analysis for studies held at both Walden Behavioral Care and collaborating sites, as well as updating WCER’s Social Media pages. Courtney received her Bachelors in Nutritional Science at UMass Lowell. In her future professional career as a Registered Dietitian, she hopes to implement and evaluate health promotion programs.