Lack of brain substance linked to eating disorders

Washington: Shortage of a substance in the brain may contribute to anorexia nervosa and bulimia, a new study has suggested.

Endocannabinoids are substances made by the brain that affect brain function and chemistry in ways that resemble the effects of cannabis derivatives, including marijuana and hashish.

These commonly abused drugs are well known to increase appetite, i.e. to cause the “munchies”.

Thus, it makes sense that deficits in this brain system would be associated with reduced appetite.

Researchers measured the status of the endocannabinoid system indirectly by determining whether there was an increase or decrease in the density of endocannabinoid receptors, called the CB1 receptor, in several brain regions using positron emission tomography, or PET, imaging.

They compared these densities in women with anorexia or bulimia with those of healthy women.

They found global increases in ligand binding to CB1 receptors in the brains of women with anorexia nervosa.

CB1R availability was also increased in the insula in both anorexia and bulimia patients.

The insula “is a region that integrates body perception, gustatory information, reward and emotion, functions known to be disturbed in these patients,” explained Dr. Koen Van Laere, the study’s lead author.

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry added, “The role of endocannabinoids in appetite control is clearly important. These new data point to important connections between this system and eating disorders.”

The findings were reported in Biological Psychiatry.


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