Researchers discover new way to diagnose anorexia, bulimia

(U-WIRE) PROVO, Utah – A team of researchers from Brigham Young University has found a new way to help those suffering from anorexia or bulimia.

Professors Kent Hatch, Diane Spangler and Steve Thomsen have been working on a new way to determine whether or not someone is suffering from these diseases just by looking at their hair.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, as many as 10 million females and 1 million men are fighting an eating disorder and 80 percent of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance.

Cases of anorexia nervosa often start between the ages of 15 and 25 and cause extreme weight loss, abnormally slow heart rate, low blood pressure, osteoporosis, muscle loss and weakness.

In the previous study, the researchers were correct in their diagnoses 80 percent of the time, meaning that 80 percent of the time they were able to correctly identify those who had anorexia or bulimia, through their hair.

The first study involved anorexics and bulimics as well as a control group of healthy volunteers. About five hairs were taken from each subject and put into a mass spectrometer, which analyzes the ratio of different levels of nitrogen and carbon in each. The difference between nitrogen and carbon show the researchers whether or not the subjects have either disorder.

“People with eating disorders are often unable or unwilling to discuss their dietary practices, ” said Thomsen, a co-author of the study in a news release. “But the hair can tell the story. The approach, used in conjunction with other methods would allow us to be more accurate because women often underreport their unhealthy dietary practices.”

In the next round of tests, the researchers are hoping to improve the 80 percent accuracy by working out some of the variables they believe have arisen.

Kent Hatch, assistant professor of biology and co-author, explained that vegans or vegetarians might look like that had an eating disorder by the study because of the lack of animal proteins.

They are also looking at the effects of excessive exercise on the quality of hair in the analysis.

“Eating disorders are classified on objective measures such as body mass index and are very exclusive,” Kent said. “We are hoping this technology will provide a better way of classifying people with eating disorders so everyone can get the help they need.”

Some things the researchers are hoping will come from this project are earlier detection, to see if the patient is nutritionally compromised, recovery-restore patterns and as nutrition stabilizes how it is linked to other problems like concentration.

“There is nothing in the field currently that can track nutrition,” said Diane Spangler, associate professor of psychology and member of the research team. “We’re not sure what we are going to find, but it could be used to pick up cases in earlier detection, become a part of physicals and we could find a better way of categorizing patients besides their body mass index.”

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