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Eating disorders

Hair analysis found to reveal eating disorders

Thursday, October 19, 2006 by: Jerome Douglas
Tags: eating disorders, body image, hair analysis


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(NewsTarget) A new study from Brigham Young University found that hair samples can help doctors diagnose eating disorders.

The BYU researchers found marked differences in nitrogen and carbon content when hair samples from females at an eating disorder clinic were compared with samples from females who didn't have a problem. The researchers were able to accurately determine the samples from women with eating disorders 80 percent of the time.

One of BYU's lead researchers on the study -- Kent Hatch -- said hair acts like a "tape recorder." Hair can record specific life events like eating patterns, drug use and even exposure to dangerous products like mercury and lead. "This would give a clinician an objective measure to use to diagnose an eating disorder, and we hope it will eventually allow a sound diagnosis at an earlier stage," said Hatch.

Tests are needed to diagnose eating disorders because those who suffer from them tend to be secretive about their problem or may not even know they have an eating disorder, said Jennifer Tolman -- clinical director at Avalon Hills, a treatment facility in Cache County, Utah. "We had a girl who was 5'10" and weighed 98 pounds, and she wasn't even sure she had an eating disorder, although she could recognize it in others."

The recent BYU research was conducted by faculty in integrative biology, communications, statistics and geology -- and grew out of earlier research on the link between eating disorders and exposure to fashion, fitness and beauty magazines.

One of the co-authors of the BYU study -- Steven Thomsen -- said it would be helpful to biologically determine the same results based on the prior research with magazines. "We have talked about going back and re-exploring some of the things we've studied and adding this variable," he said.

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