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New Therapy Shows Promise for Severe Anorexia

In the past, it’s been challenging to find effective treatment for individuals struggling with severe, chronic anorexia that was resistant to traditional therapies. In a study conducted at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre and the University Health Network, however, researchers have discovered a new line of hope for those striving to overcome this specific eating disorder – a hope that comes in the form of deep brain stimulation.

Looking to the Brain for Answers

The goal of this study was to target dysfunctional circuits in the brain – areas thought to be causing emotional and psychological symptoms of anorexia.

In the first stage of the trial, six patients suffering from severe, chronic anorexia were treated with deep brain stimulation. The average age of the patients was 38; each had suffered with anorexia for an average of 18 years.

Without further treatment, the severity of their conditions would have continued with chronic illness and/or an untimely death. Additionally, almost all of the patients had been diagnosed with co-morbid psychiatric disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and major depressive disorder.

As a whole, all six patients had racked up a total of 50 hospitalizations between them – each stay brought on by the far-reaching effects of anorexia.

During the procedure, each patient had electrodes implanted into brain locations that specifically impact emotion. Once in place, the researchers tested all six patients three times over the course of six months. They also conducted a nine-month follow-up observation.

The Encouraging Results

The results of the deep brain stimulation were very positive. Some of the most impressive outcomes include:

  • Half of the patients were able to increase and sustain their body max index longer than they had ever been able to before.
  • Two-thirds of the patients experienced positive improvements in mood, anxiety, emotional regulation, obsessions, and compulsions.
  • Many of the patients were able to complete treatment programs that they’d never been able to stick with in the past.

Going Forward and Getting Healthy

This ground-breaking study could potentially fill a dangerous gap in the treatment of eating disorders, as many programs are unable to treat extreme forms of the disease before it’s too late.

Approaching eating disorders like chronic and treatment-resistant anorexia from a completely different perspective – not just the aspect of weight gain – is proving to be more effective in establishing lasting and healthy behavioral changes. In short; many of these emerging and unique treatment therapies could potentially turn out to be lifesaving to the thousands of people currently struggling with eating disorders like treatment-resistant anorexia.


Additional Reading: 5 Subtle Signs of an Eating Disorder

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