It is great to shine the spotlight on Anorexia Nervosa, highlighted this week by The New York Times. The article focused on the science and the research supporting Anorexia Nervosa as a brain-based illness with genetic and environmental factors that affect the brain.
Research has proven and we know from experience, that regardless of the psychological symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa, this is a disorder of starvation-induced malnutrition that has fundamental micronutrient deficiencies that sustain the illness and inhibits and often prevent lasting recovery.
Clinicians who are adapting a 360-degree approach to care and who are focused on functional medicine, biochemistry, and micronutrient repletion as critical to treatments, along with genetics and lifestyle considerations are seeing more sustained and rapid recovery with their patients.
The crisis of Anorexia Nervosa and its death grip on families and children will not be abated until more clinicians realize that this is truly starvation-induced malnutrition and treat accordingly.
“Over the last 20 years, we have an increased understanding of the neurobiological basis of anorexia,” Joanna Steinglass, the director of research at the Eating Disorders Research Clinic at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, told me. “Not that there isn’t a person there and behaviors — but there are brain mechanisms to all this.” Recent research shows, for example, that when anorexics decide what to eat, different parts of the brain are activated than in those of people without disordered eating. Other research indicates that metabolic features play a role.
There is also evidence suggesting a genetic component to the disorder, though the extent to which the cause might be a mix of genes and environment is still unknown. As one doctor at the Eating Disorders Research Unit at King’s College London tells Freeman in her book, “You need genetic soil and environmental triggers.”