Taste and anorexia

Times Staff Writer

A part of the brain that helps regulate taste may play a role in anorexia nervosa.

Using functional MRIs, researchers at UC San Diego and the University of Pittsburgh measured activity in the brains of 32 women, while the women tasted sugar and distilled water. Half of the women had recovered from anorexia; the other half had never had the eating disorder. The researchers found that the former anorexics had significantly less activity in the insular cortex and surrounding areas of the brain when tasting sugar than did the control group.

“We get hunger signals to go ahead and eat, and food is rewarding,” says lead author Dr. Walter Kaye, a professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego and the University of Pittsburgh. “It appears that people with anorexia may be getting different signals.

“We’re beginning to understand that there are good biologic reasons why people may be vulnerable to developing anorexia and bulimia,” Kaye says.

The study, available online in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, was publicized in advance of this week’s conference of the National Eating Disorders Assn. in San Diego.