Saturday, April 04, 2009

How some girls are born to be anorexic: Eating disorder linked to brain abnormality

That it is just another obsessive/compulsive disorder (a psychosis) has long been obvious and psychoses do normally have an hereditary component

Thousands of girls may be born at risk of suffering anorexia, according to a study that could revolutionise treatment of the eating disorder. Most sufferers are predisposed to the condition because of the way their brains developed in the womb, it is claimed.

The research threatens to overturn decades of scientific orthodoxy holding that anorexia is primarily caused by social factors, such as the pressure to lose weight to emulate size zero models.

Charities say the findings raise the prospect of drugs being developed to treat anorexia. Alternatively, doctors could screen girls at the age of eight to assess risk and treat accordingly.

The study, led by Dr Ian Frampton, consultant in paediatric psychology at London's Great Ormond Street hospital, will be unveiled at a conference at the Institute of Education in the capital this week. Dr Frampton said: 'Our research shows that certain kids' brains develop in such a way that makes them more vulnerable to commonly-known risk factors for eating disorders - such as the size zero debate, media representations of very skinny women and bad parents.'

Dr Frampton's team tested more than 200 anorexia sufferers from Britain, the U.S. and Norway. Most were females aged between 12 and 25 being treated in private hospitals in Edinburgh and Maidenhead. The researchers found around 70 per cent had suffered damage to neurotransmitters - which help brain cells communicate - or had undergone other subtle changes in the structure of their brains.

One in every few hundred girls may be affected in this way, according to Dr Frampton. He said the condition is caused by random conditions, not poor maternal diet or environmental factors.

The 'imperfect wiring' of the brain is similar to that seen in people with dyslexia, depression or hyperactivity. Dr Frampton said: 'These findings could help us to understand a disease we don't know how to treat. 'Arguments that social factors, such as girls feeling under pressure to lose weight to look like high-profile women in the media, contain logical flaws because almost everyone is exposed to them, yet only a small percentage of young people get anorexia. 'Those things are important but there must be other factors, involving genetics and science, that make some young people much more vulnerable than others.'

Around 1.1million people are estimated to have an eating disorder in Britain, most commonly anorexia and bulimia. Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beat, the eating disorders charity, said: 'It could pave the way for the first drugs to be developed to treat eating disorders, similar to the way that anti-depressants help rebalance the brain of people with depression. 'And it will help parents understand they aren't to blame. 'Parents always blame themselves when their child develops an eating disorder. [That used to be the case for autism too. Psychiatrists blamed "refrigerator mothers" for the disorder -- which multiplied the suffering of the entirely innocent mothers] 'But what we are learning more and more from research in this area is that some people are very vulnerable to anorexia.

'That is down to genetic factors and brain chemistry, and not them trying to look like celebrity models or suffering a major traumatic event early in their lives.' She added: 'This research is a key missing part of the jigsaw of our understanding of anorexia.'


Net surfers make better workers

INTERNET-SURFING workers relax: employees who regularly sneak a peek at Facebook or shop online during office hours could actually be boosting their productivity. Melbourne University's Dr Brent Coker says workers who surf the internet for leisure, known as 'Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing' (WILB), are more productive than those who don't.

A study of 300 employees found 70 per cent of people who used the internet at work engaged in WILB. "People who do surf the internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20 per cent of their total time in the office - are more productive by about nine per cent than those who don't,'' said Dr Coker, from the university's Department of Management and Marketing. "Firms spend millions on software to block their employees from watching videos on YouTube, using social networking sites like Facebook or shopping online under the pretence that it costs millions in lost productivity. However that's not always the case.''

Reading online news sites and searching for product information were rated among the most popular WILB activities, while playing online games and watching YouTube movies also ranked high. And if workers need an excuse for the lapse, they can put it down to a lack of concentration. "People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration. Think back to when you were in class listening to a lecture - after about 20 minutes your concentration probably went right down, yet after a break your concentration was restored,'' Dr Coker said. "It's the same in the workplace.

"Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day's work, and as a result, increased productivity.''

But he warned excessive time spent surfing the internet could have the reverse effect. "Approximately 14 per cent of internet users in Australia show signs of internet addiction - they don't take breaks at appropriate times, they spend more than a 'normal' amount of time online, and can get irritable if they are interrupted while surfing.

"WILB is not as helpful for this group of people - those who behave with internet addiction tendencies will have a lower productivity than those without.''


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