Recent Study Finds Long-Lasting Autistic Traits In Women With Anorexia

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Feb 04, 2017 09:09 AM EST

A child suffering from infantile autism reacts during rest at the Xining Orphan and Disabled Children Welfare Center on December 17, 2005 in Xining of Qinghai Province, China. (Photo : China Photos/Getty Images)

A recent study by Sahlgrenska Academy found that women with anorexia display clear autistic traits, even when the eating disorder is under control and they have achieved a normal weight. The researchers discovered some similarities between anorexia and autism are also seen in a part of women's brain which process social skills.

"A traditional eating disorder is usually linked to fixation with food and weight, but there are also a large number of other thoughts and behavior in individuals with anorexia nervosa that have previously been considered typical for autism," psychologist at the Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre in Gothenburg Louise Karjalainen, PhD said.

Although, it is already known that individuals with autism have disturbed eating behavior, it is not clear if autistic behavior with regards to food also exists in persons with anorexia nervosa. One of the groups of participants studied by the researchers comprised of 30 women with anorexia nervosa who are between the ages of 15 and 25,according to Science Daily.

The researchers monitored them after the study and found that though, their health had generally begun to improve a year later, they still had the negative patterns of behavior around food which also characterizes persons with autism.

Among the types of things that could make women regress long after the acute stage of anorexia are: an unbearable food smell, a dining companion that makes loud noises and an aversion to the idea of eating together with others. The authors find that these autistic traits are present even after the body had been repaired and nourished.

They reported that a person functions better once they have regained normal weight from an eating disorder, but the social aspects of meal times are still uncomfortable, with such persons having issues with multi-tasking. They also have problems with cutting food and chewing at the same time, which is something that is also prevalent in people with autism.

The fact that this is hard for patients with anorexia is something that has not previously been noticed and it is save to suspect that it partly has to do with the food and weight anxiety, but its link to social factors is clear. MRI scans also revealed that women in the group had similar changes as women with autism in the parts of the brain that is responsible for social cognition,accordong to Medical Express.

This is due to thinning of the gray matter behind the temple area, that was absent in men with autism or in the comparison groups. The researchers believe that this is an interesting discovery but further study is needed to better understand the link between the conditions.

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