Friday, March 14th, 2014
Oxytocin, a chemical that is proving helpful in helping people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), particularly in terms of their ability to read social cues, is being researched for its possible application in treating anorexia, a disorder which currently has no established medication. More from Time.com:
Autism and anorexia have wildly different public faces. The stereotype of an autistic person is a little boy obsessed with trains or a brilliant coder with no social life, while the eating disorder victim is typically pictured as a driven young woman or girl, whose whole world revolves around presenting a carefully drawn picture of thinness and social perfection.
While stereotypes never capture the whole story, underlying both conditions is a rigid obsessiveness that appears within the first few years of life, as well as difficulties reading and responding appropriately to social signals. Not to mention, two of the major triggers for anorexia are a profound sense of alienation and sensitivity to social ranking, according to Dr. Janet Treasure, professor of psychiatry and director of the eating disorders unit at King’s College in London.
Evidence that oxytocin, a brain chemical also known as the “love hormone,” can help autistic people pay more attention to social cues and make socializing less stressful prompted Treasure to explore what effect it would have on anorexia. Now, three new studies of the hormone—best known for its role in bonding lovers to each other and parents to their children—suggest that it may indeed be a viable treatment for anorexia, which currently has no effective pharmacological medication and relies for the most part on therapy.
Image: Erasing anorexia, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Girls who suffer from the eating disorder anorexia often exhibit some traits and behaviors that are similar to those who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to research by Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre. The anorexic girls, Cohen found, suffered an above average number of autistic traits. More from Reuters:
They were also found to have an above-average interest in systems and order, and below-average scores in empathy – a profile similar, but less pronounced, to that seen in people with autism, suggesting the two disorders may have common underlying features, Baron-Cohen said.
“Traditionally, anorexia has been viewed purely as an eating disorder. This is quite reasonable, since the girls’ dangerously low weight and their risk of malnutrition or even death has to be the highest priority,” he said.
“But this new research is suggesting that underlying the surface behavior, the mind of a person with anorexia may share a lot with the mind of a person with autism. In both conditions, there is a strong interest in systems. In girls with anorexia, they have latched onto a system that concerns body weight, shape, and food intake.”
People with autism have varying levels of impairment across three main areas – social interaction and empathy or understanding, repetitive behavior and interests, and language and communication.
Cohen noted that autism and anorexia share certain features, such as rigid attitudes and behaviors, a tendency to be very self-focused, and a fascination with detail. Both disorders also share similar differences in the structure and function of brain regions involved in social perception.
The findings, researchers say, could help in the development of new treatments for anorexia.
Image: Anorexia sign, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, August 9th, 2011
The number of young teenagers and “tweens” affected by clinical eating disorders or more general “disordered eating” is rising in America, a number of new studies show. CNN.com reports on the trend:
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Once considered a risk only for wealthy, high-achieving teenage girls, eating disorders such as anorexia (and, more rarely, bulimia) are becoming increasingly common among children, even little boys.
“In the last two years, we’ve actually had to add a treatment track to deal with kids ages 9 to 11,” says Margaret Kelley, clinical nurse manager for the eating disorders treatment program at The Children’s Hospital in Denver. “And we’re getting many more boys. We used to see one or two a year at most, but we’ve almost always got one or two boys in the program now.”
The average age for the onset of anorexia used to be 13 to 17. Now it’s 9 to 12, and children as young as 7 have been diagnosed, says Abigail Natenshon, a psychotherapist and author of “When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder.”
No one knows how many preteens are affected today, though 5% of adolescents are affected. What is known is that at least 10% of adult anorexics first showed clear symptoms of the condition before they were 10 years old — and kids growing up today may be even more vulnerable.
More than 60% of elementary and middle school teachers reported that eating disorders are a problem in their schools, according to a study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
The vast majority of kids in this country don’t have an eating disorder and will probably never develop one. But experts are concerned about the rise in nearly epidemic proportions of “disordered eating” — a pattern of dieting or calorie restriction that’s unhealthy and a known trigger for eating disorders. Some troubling statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association:
– 42% of kids in first through third grades wish they were thinner
– 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of becoming fat
– 51% of 9- and 10-year-old girls say they feel better about themselves when they are on a diet
Numbers like these are red flags for experts. And perhaps the most worrisome news is that it’s not just overweight kids who are restricting calories.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, significant numbers of normal-weight and underweight kids are also dieting: 16% of girls ages 8 to 11, and 19% of girls ages 12 to 15. The numbers are slightly lower for boys, though these, too, are rising.