Bulimia nervosa is an eating and food issue that affects millions of people, particularly women, each year. It is characterized with binge eating and radical weight loss behaviors that include extensive use of laxatives, extreme exercise or repeated self-induced vomiting. People who suffer with bulimia often do so for years and the physical effects on their bodies can be devastating. But a new study may provide insight into why women with bulimia continue their behaviors, regardless of how they are rewarded. The study, conducted by Dr. Guido Frank, examined the brain activity in women who were healthy and compared it to the brain activity of women with bulimia. The activity levels were monitored as each group of women was asked to complete a task that ended in a reward that would release dopamine, a chemical that is responsible for motivation and learning.
The researchers discovered that the women with bulimia displayed less brain activity in the area that was associated with reward. Additionally, their decreased response was directly linked to how often they had episodes of binging and purging. The researchers believe that these findings clearly show a link between the reward system of the brain and the role of dopamine in women with bulimia. They also theorize that the bulimic behaviors are a predictor of the reward system and they do not know if this is reversible with recovery. Lastly, the researchers are considering whether or not a dopamine medication designed to address this region of the brain would be a viable treatment option for bulimia. “This is the first study that suggests that brain dopamine-related reward circuitry, pathways that modulate our drive to eat, may have a role in bulimia nervosa,” says Frank. “That suggests that the eating disorder behavior directly affects brain function. These findings are important since the brain dopamine neurotransmitter system could be an important treatment target for bulimia nervosa,” said Frank.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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