Biological Causes of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa affect millions of people each year in the United States (1). Popular thought holds that these disorders are caused by women trying to fulfill a culturally imposed ideal body image which stresses thinness. As anorexia and bulimia have proven difficult to treat solely with a psychological-based treatment plan it is likely that there are many factors contributing to these disorders. Research has shown, however, that there is a significant biological component which leads to a manifestation of these disorders (2). Current ideas on the biological origins of anorexia and bulimia will be explored in this paper. These include areas ranging from genetic factors to neurotransmitter and hormone imbalances. Genetics appears to play a significant role in predisposing a person to developing an eating disorder. Abnormal neurotransmitter levels have been shown to exist in people with both bulimia and anorexia. Hormone functioning and levels are also atypical in people with eating disorders. While most studies focus on one area, and usually on just one neurotransmitter or hormone, the different biological causes of eating disorders seem to be related to one another. How these possible biological causes influences the I-function (which is the term for the components of the nervous system which give a sense of being oneself) will be examined as well in this paper. Anorexia nervosa is described as a disorder in which women and men intentionally starve themselves, losing at least fifteen percent of their normal body weight. This self imposed emaciation usually begins during puberty and is most common among middle to upper class Caucasian women, affecting one percent of the US population (1). Amenorrhea, the cessation of the normal menstrual cycle is a common occurrence among anorexic women. There is a tremendous discord between actual weight and perceived body weight. While the woman may feel fat she is actually excessively underweight. "When she came in for consultation she looked like a walking skeleton. Alma insisted that she looked fine and that there was nothing wrong with her being so skinny. 'I enjoy having this disease and I want it. I cannot convince myself that I am sick and that there is anything from which I have to recover." (3)
Bulimia nervosa is a related disorder which affects two to three percent of young American women (1). This disease is most commonly described as the cycle of eating huge quantities of food, thousands of calories in one sitting, then ridding the body of this food through some form of self purging. Purging is accomplished through excessive exercise, abuse of laxatives or diuretics, enemas, or vomiting. Many of these methods are often incorporated simultaneously. The bulimic frequently thinks this practice of bingeing and purging is disgusting and does so in private, making it hard to detect and treat.
"Lisa would eat pounds...