Australian researchers have discovered a new biomarker for anorexia, which can be used for diagnosing the eating disorder.
A team of researchers from St. Vincent's Hospital, the University of Melbourne and Swinburne University discovered that people suffering with anorexia showed jerky eye movements, which are called square wave jerks. Such jerky eye movement is visible only in a very trivial number of healthy people.
The study involved 24 female participants who had anorexia and 24 healthy individuals who did not have any eating disorders. The researchers asked all the participants to focus on an image for five minutes continuously and found that anorexia patients displayed jerky eye movements while healthy participants did not exhibit any unusual eye movements. The researchers reveal that the healthy participants displayed smooth eye movement during the experiment.
Professor Susan Rossell, at Swinburne's Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre, reveals that a neurotransmitter that is called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which contributes to cortical functions such as vision, may be responsible in anorexia. Researchers suggest that the latest biomarker discovery may be used for diagnosing anorexia accuracy rate of as high as 95 percent.
"This phenomenal finding tells us that it is part of a more fundamental brain network that is core to our eye movements," says Rossell.
The researchers suggest that drugs to influence GABA have not been explored previously for the treatment of eating disorders.
Medical experts reveal that the causes of the eating disorder that affects only a small number of people worldwide are not very clear, which makes it difficult for researchers to understand anorexia properly and discover preventive measures.
The researchers of the latest study suggest that previously scientists have found it difficult to make a comparison of the effects of starvation between the brains of healthy individuals and that of anorexia patients. Previous researchers were also unable to find the factors that lead to anorexia.
"We really do not know why these people decide to starve themselves and no one has really made any inroads into the brain mechanisms involved," added Rossell.
The study suggests that family therapy and feeding patients have been common practice. However, many anorexia patients refrain from any type of treatment resulting in starvation. The success rate of long term treatment is only 30 percent.
Rossell suggests that further research is needed to observe if jerky eye movements happened in individuals who were at elevated risk of anorexia and also amongst people who have actually recovered. This information may help researchers understand the origination of the eating disorder.