Hair Examination: A Potential Method for Identifying Eating Disorders

Key Takeaways:

  • A groundbreaking technique developed by researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) examines the carbon and nitrogen components in hair to detect eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
  • Each hair strand represents a nutritional “journal,” recording day-to-day nutrition patterns, allowing examination of dietary habits and potentially identifying problematic patterns.
  • The current method has demonstrated an impressive accuracy of 80% in diagnosing eating disorders, with just five strands of hair needed for accurate results.
  • Despite the potential, the test is currently limited by falsely identifying vegetarians as having an eating disorder due to their plant-based diet.
  • Although more research is required before the test can act as a stand-alone diagnostic tool, it’s considered a significant auxiliary tool and could potentially provide a history of eating disorders.

Eating disorders often go undetected, typically due to the unawareness or denial of the patients themselves. However, a groundbreaking technique developed by scholars at Brigham Young University (BYU) could revolutionize this process. The procedure involves scrutinizing the carbon and nitrogen components in hair to detect disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

The Science Behind The Method

“The human body chronicles your eating habits within your hair, providing insights into an individual’s nutritional health,” explained lead researcher Kent Hatch, an assistant professor of integrative biology at BYU.

Protein buildup at the base of hair strands causes it to grow out of the follicle. These proteins are directly affected by dietary intake. Consequently, each strand represents a nutritional “journal,” recording day-to-day nutrition patterns.

How it Works

The new method examines two molecules, carbon and nitrogen. Through the analysis of these molecules, the team believes they can diagnose eating disorders with an impressive accuracy of 80%.

“By analyzing the carbon and nitrogen proportions in an individual’s hair, we can predict whether they have anorexia or bulimia,” Hatch adds. “This test gives an unbiased approach to determine if someone has developed an eating disorder.”

The study aimed to identify differences in molecular patterns between individuals with healthy eating habits and those with disorders. The method was so potent that a mere five strands of hair were required for accurate results.

The Future Potential of The Test

“We hope to further develop this test, making it a diagnostic tool and also a monitoring aid during a person’s recovery,” said Hatch.

However, the current version of the test needs improvement. At the moment, the method falsely identifies vegetarians as having an eating disorder due to their plant-based diet.

Limitations and Implications

Though pioneering, the new test has its limitations. It could act as a significant auxiliary tool for diagnosing eating disorders but might not yet serve as a stand-alone diagnostic tool due to its need for optimization.

The William and Jeanne Jordan Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders, director of the eating disorders program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Cynthia M. Bulik, believes the test could provide an eating disorder history.

Also, studies reveal that over 90% of individuals with eating disorders are females aged between 12 and 25, as per the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Nevertheless, an increasing number of males and older females are developing these disorders, which without proper treatment, could result in malnutrition, heart issues, and potential fatal complications.

More Information

For further information, please visit the National Eating Disorders Association.

Emma Caplan

Hola from sunny Costa Rica! I’m Emma Caplan, a California native turned Costa Rican resident. With over a decade of writing experience under my belt, I’ve crafted stories, articles, and narratives on a multitude of subjects. But at heart, health and lifestyle topics resonate the most with me.Not just a writer by profession, I'm an athlete by passion. CrossFit challenges and exhilarates me, shaping both my physical stamina and my perspective on life. I love intertwining my firsthand experiences from the box with my pieces, giving readers a unique blend of authenticity and expertise.Married and fully immersed in the pura vida lifestyle, I've found the perfect balance between my personal and professional life in this tropical paradise. Whether you're here for tips, insights, or stories, I’m committed to delivering content that informs, inspires, and perhaps even pushes you to try that one workout you've been hesitating to start.Join me in my journey as I explore the nexus between physical wellbeing and the art of writing. Let's sweat, learn, and grow together!
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