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Anorexia & Hunger

April 7, 2015

The brains of people with anorexia don’t connect the feeling of hunger with reward.



Hunger, anorexia, and reward. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Anorexia is the most fatal of all psychiatric disorders. People suffering from the condition restrict their food intake, ignoring hunger signals that normally motivate people to eat. UC San Diego clinical neuropsychologist Christina Wierenga and her colleagues compared the brain activity of women who had recovered from anorexia to that of women with no history of an eating disorder.


Hunger motivates people to eat because it makes rewards more enticing, and what we found was that hunger did not increase engagement of reward circuitry in the brain of individuals that had a history of anorexia, and so this may protect people with anorexia from hunger related urges which might help them restrict food even when they’re already emaciated.


The researchers hope the findings will help them develop better therapies for anorexia in the future. The study appears in the journal Behavioral Psychiatry. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.