June 2, 2020
Reducing stigma and increasing research efforts is vital to improving outcomes
Binge-eating disorder is one of the most common eating disorders in the general population. For World Eating Disorders Action Day (Tuesday 2 June 2020), we spoke to researcher Dr Kristi Griffiths from WIMR’s Brain Dynamics Centre, whose research is focused on brain connectivity in people with binge-eating disorder.
Binge-eating disorder is characterised by recurrent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food, accompanied by significant distress. Individuals with binge-eating disorder do not use ‘compensatory behaviours’ such as over-exercising or purging after binge-eating.
Dr Kristi Griffiths says that, although binge-eating disorder is one of the most common eating disorders, there are knowledge gaps in both public awareness, and in research.
“Awareness of certain eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa has improved in recent years. However, both conditions affect about one percent of the population, whereas binge-eating disorder affects six percent of the general population,” she said.
“Binge-eating disorder has only recently been recognised as a psychiatric condition. This means there’s not as much public awareness and also not as much research into the condition – but there has been a lot of recent interest.”
Dr Griffiths and her team are researching how binge-eating disorder affects brain connectivity. They are investigating how a medication commonly prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects the brain of people with binge-eating disorder.
Dr Griffiths said, “There are a few similarities between ADHD and binge-eating disorder, notably, that both conditions are related to impulse control.
“Clinical trials have shown that the medication we are investigating – called lisdexamfetamine dimesylate or ‘LDX’ – is effective in managing the symptoms of binge-eating disorder. However, what we don’t know is why it’s effective.
“Eating disorders result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors – there is no set profile for the brain of someone with an eating disorder, and how it will respond to treatment.
“Our research will help us understand how LDX works in the brain to alleviate symptoms, as well as provide clues as to who the medication will be most suited to.
“By teasing apart how eating disorders affect the brain, we can start forming better treatment pathways and recommendations, and develop improved targets for treatment.
“Ultimately, we hope our research is a small step on the way to personalised treatment plans for people with binge-eating disorder.”
Eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health issue. Dr Griffiths said that reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders, as well as research efforts, are vital in changing this.
“It’s so important that people realise that eating disorders are not a choice – no-one chooses to have a severe health condition,” she said.
“We need to recognise that eating disorders are mental health conditions in order to help the general public understand them, but also to treat them effectively.
“For example, some – though not all – patients affected by binge eating disorder may be overweight. If we treat binge-eating disorder as a physical health issue, without addressing mental health, it’s likely that weight loss efforts may be temporary, until individuals receive treatment that also addresses the psychological aspects of the disorder.
“Without appropriate treatment, people may have a life-time of dealing with an eating disorder. My hope is that research will lead to improved treatment options and that, globally, we work together to reduce the stigma surrounding these conditions, and break down barriers to treatment so that we can improve the quality of life of those affected.”
Dr Kristi Griffiths is affiliated with The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) and the University of Sydney.