Recently, a lot of attention was devoted to the issue of anorexia and the ways of treating it. The specificities of this well-known disorder were analyzed in a different light, which led scientists to find unexpected results and conclusions.
Anorexia nervosa can be most easily understood as being a type of psychological eating disorder. It goes beyond the simple dysfunction of the digestive system, and the complex psychological problems that accompany the disorder may even be the actual cause.
How does anorexia start?
Anorexia usually develops from the normal desire to lose weight. A person starts some kind of a diet, and that turns into the issue of control over one's body rather than the weight loss. In an attempt to control the body, a person actually loses control of themselves. The fear of obesity or loss of control becomes addictive, and has numerous negative consequences. A patient keeps their diet while combining it with different restrictions. This may include excessive physical training, overuse of drugs such as diuretics or laxatives, and diet pills that diminish appetite. If the described situation continues for a long time, it can lead to dangerous starvation that can result in death.
What does anorexia have in common with autism?
A recent study promoted the idea of the common nature between autism and anorexia. It is known that anorexia is more likely to affect girls (95 percent of all cases), while autism is more common in boys. These disorders both have deep psychological foundations and are manifested similarly. In the case of autism, patients often demonstrate strong desires to control themselves and to organize everything around them. They prefer constant repetition of events and obsessive, narrowed interests. Girls suffering from anorexia are the same, except that the subject of their obsession is food. Moreover, the same study revealed that the same set of genes are risk factors in provoking both disorders. Autistic and anorexic patients show the same inabilities in successful social integration. They experience feelings of isolation and alienation, while also being very sensitive to social hierarchy.
How can we use this knowledge in treatment?
Presently, there is no medicinal treatment for anorexia. All currently used strategies are based on non-medicinal approach. In cases of severe weight loss that results in impairment of organ functions, the patients are hospitalized. The main goal of doctors in these cases is to concentrate on malnutrition and weight gain. The psychological problems are resolved through therapy, educational programs, training on the importance of healthy nutrition, and an increase of social interaction and communication.
However, the new approach to anorexia can be praised for developing necessary medications. Scientists made assumptions that the brain chemical oxytocin would also be effective for anorexics, since it is well recommended to treat socializing problems in autistic patients. Oxytocin, which also called the love hormone, is responsible for creating bonds between parents, children, and lovers. It is highly probable that low levels of this hormone are closely related to the absence of such bonds in autistic people and their impaired social activity. Regular use of these new drugs may reduce stress during social activities, and create the necessary effects for both disorders.
Additionally, oxytocin works as a kind of a distractor. It interferes with the patients' desires to focus on food and body shape. It also extinguishes different negative emotions commonly consistent with anorexia such as anger, irritability, and disgust.