A New Bulimia Side Effect: Brain Damage

Cristen Conger

Bulimia appears to hur the brain. (Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images)

I don't need to tell you that bulimia nervosa is a harmful disorder. The Mayo Clinic's list of the eating disorder's side effects include abnormal bowel functioning, damaged teeth and gums, swollen salivary glands in the cheeks, sores in the throat and mouth and irregular heartbeat. And with new study findings out of the University of Colorado, brain damage might be another scary side effect to add to that list.

ScienceDaily reports that bulimia patients' may suffer from a faulty dopamine reward system in their brains. In addition, the more intensive a patient's binge and purge frequency, the weaker the reward system performed. Lead researcher and psychiatrist Guido Frank said the study results are significant since it's "...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."

The dopamine depression may also impede recovery from bulimia since the study didn't determine whether stopping the disordered behavior would revive the reward system. But Frank also added: "These findings are important since the brain dopamine neurotransmitter system could be an important treatment target for bulimia nervosa."

It's also worth pointing out that Frank only examined female bulimia patients. Although eating disorders are more prevalent among women and girls, they certainly affect men as well. One commonly cited statistic states that men comprise 5 to 10 percent of people with eating disorders, but the data are somewhat sketchy. Considering that body dysmorphic disorder is a gender-blind somatoform disorder, affecting men and women equally, it certainly seems like men should also be included in research like this.

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