A new study conducted by Dr. Walter Kaye of the University of Pittsburgh has found evidence suggesting that bulimia does not result solely from society’s pressure to be thin.
Kaye’s research has linked high levels of serotonin in the brain to cases of bulimia in women. In fact, bulimics in the study showed double the average levels of serotonin in their bodies. The women also exhibited other symptoms of elevated seratonin levels, including bad moods and an obsession with perfection.
Bingeing and purging reduces serotonin activity in the body; given this fact, Kaye has hypothesized that bulimics may use the routine unconsciously to regulate serotonin levels and relieve anxiety and obsessiveness.
“We’re in the same stage where schizophrenia was 20 years ago. People used to think schizophrenia was something your mother caused, but we now know it’s a brain disorder,” said Kaye.
While Kaye does not argue that women with high seratonin levels will always develop bulimia, he does believe that these women are more vulnerable to developing the disease than others, and can be set off by external, environmental factors.
Cynthia Bulik, Director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Eating Disorder program, who is currently studying twins with bulimia, stated, “Over the next five years, I am certain we’re going to turn the corner, where the entire mental health field agrees. The ultimate key to eating disorders is a combination of biology and the environment.”