Researchers from Yale University have homed in on a specific kind of neuron that appears to play a sizable role in fatal cases of anorexia. They also found that a high-fat diet may be able to prevent some deaths from the condition.
For the study, the researchers examined a specific neuron active during food restriction known as the hypothalamic agouti-related peptide (AgRP) in food-restricted mice. Inhibiting these neurons, they found, led to death within 72 hours for all animals that also followed a food-restricted, high-exercise regime.
As AgRP neurons are necessary for accessing alternative forms of fuel for the body- such as fat- in the absence of eating and the presence of excessive exercise, the body can not produce enough energy to continue its normal processes.
The researchers also noted, however, that when they provided mice with decreased AgRP activity with a high-fat diet (60% fat), death was ‘completely prevented’. They noted this to be the case even when their exercise behavior (measured by running on a wheel) and body weight did not differ from those on a standard diet. However, they also found that the mice on the high fat-diet increased their running capacity when compared to those on a standard diet.
As such, the researchers say that eating foods with elevated levels of fat may reduce mortality rates among those with anorexia. To see whether this may be the case, they are now extending their research to identify which fats are most effective in reducing the mortality rate from anorexia.
While interesting findings, the researchers say that finding an exact analog for anorexia among mice was a challenge due to the many factors that come together to produce anorexia in humans that are difficult to replicate in mice. These include not only genetic and neurological factors but also environmental factors, including society and culture. Until tested on humans, it is unclear that their results will transfer over to human populations too.