Usually when people say you have a big brain, it’s a compliment, but researchers from the University of Colorado's School of Medicine found that it may in fact mean your child has a greater chance of developing an eating disorder.

Dr. Guido Frank, assistant professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at CU School of Medicine conducted a study with a group of colleges to find out why some adolescents are more likely to develop eating disorders, such as anorexia. They studied two groups of adolescent girls. One group consisted of girls with anorexia nervosa and one group of girls with typical eating habits. It was found that the first group of adolescents had a larger insula. This is a part of the brain that is active when people taste food. The girls also had a larger orbitofrontal cortex, which is a part of the brain that tells a person when to stop eating.

The study suggests that people with larger brains could be the reason why people with anorexia are able to starve themselves. Similar studies and results have shown that children with anorexia nervosa have enlarged sections of the brains, as do adults who have recovered from anorexia nervosa. These results have led researchers to believe that a predisposition to develop eating disorders may develop first in the brain before they are aggravated by environmental causes.

"While eating disorders are often triggered by the environment, there are most likely biological mechanisms that have to come together for an individual to develop an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa," Frank says.

For the study, the research team recruited 41 adolescent girls, 19 with anorexia nervosa, and 22 without to act as the control group. They used MRI to examine brain volume on all of the girls in the study, and afterwards it was found that the girls with anorexia showed greater left orbitofrontal, right insular, and bilateral temporal cortex gray matter than the individuals in the control group. The individuals with anorexia nervosa also displayed negativity to sweet tastes. The results were compared to a similar study conducted with adults. The adult group also showed greater orbitofrontal cortex and insula volumes as well.

The brain areas associated with a predisposition to eating disorders are what prompt people to feel full and stop eating. An increased volume in these areas suggests that individual with eating disorder feel full faster and stop eating before their body is actually full.

Source: University of Colorado Denver (2013, August 22). Brain size may signal risk of developing an eating disorder. ScienceDaily.

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