Essay on Biochemical Correlates of Anorexia and Bulimia

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Biochemical Correlates of Anorexia and Bulimia


Millions of people in the United States suffer from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is a dangerous eating disorder characterized by distorted body image, obsession with food and weight, drastic reduction in food intake often to the point of starvation, and extreme weight loss (1). Bulimia nervosa is a somewhat similar eating disorder more specifically characterized by recurring episodes of uncontrollable binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or abuse of laxatives or diuretics (2).
The vast majority - more than 90 percent - of those afflicted with eating disorders are adolescent and young adult women (1). This has led to the popular belief that eating
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In fact, drugs which act on serotonin pathways in the brain are commonly used for the short-term management of obesity. Fenfluramine, one of the two drugs which make up the controversial diet pill "Fen-Phen," is an example of one such drug. Fenfluramine, along with dexfenfluramine (a similar, purified version of fenfluramine), acts by increasing serotonin activity in the brain, thus suppressing appetite and facilitating weight loss (5). It has been suggested that food restriction and several other behaviors which are characteristic of anorexia may be associated with increased serotonin activity (4).

Conversely, it has been shown that decreased serotonin activity in the brain is associated with enhanced appetite, and thus may be related to bulimia (4). Researchers working in conjunction with Harvard Medical School have demonstrated a link between bulimia and impaired serotonergic responsiveness in the brain. The study compared serotonergic activity and the presence of several behavioral symptoms of bulimia among bulimic and healthy women. Serotonergic responsiveness was assessed by measuring the activity of the pathway following administration of a serotonin agonist. It was found that the women with bulimia showed significantly less serotonergic activity following administration of the agonist than did the healthy women. In other words, the agonist did not have as great an effect on serotonin activity in bulimic…