Hair Test Can Identify Eating Disorders, But How Useful Is It?
> 10/17/2006 12:39:58 PM

Reuters has reported this week on a new study from researchers at BYU that claims to be able to identify, with 80% accuracy, if someone suffers from an eating disorder. The technique works by examining carbon and nitrogen in hair follicles to determine the daily nutrition of a subject. Those suffering from anorexia or bulimia would register different compositions in their hair that would indicate malnutrition. Lead researcher Kent Hatch pointed out that current treatment relies heavily on questionnaires and interviews. He also told Reuters:

“Rather than waiting until it’s extremely obvious that they’ve fallen off the wagon if you will, they might be able to take some hair and see whether they’ve been sticking to the treatment regime that has been prescribed for them, rather than relying on the honesty of the person.”

While this test may prove a helpful tool in the future, Anxiety, Addiction and Depression Treatments contributor Dr. Mada Hapworth contends that there are many questions that will need to be answered before it can be used at the clinical level. For one thing, test sensitivity is an important issue. Reuters mentions that a month of growth is necessary for the test to be administered. But often patients in treatment are seen on a much more regular basis, and may fall back on unhealthy eating behaviors after a short time. The scale, used by many therapists in office environments, provides a much more valuable readout in terms of progress. In that way, even if the hair test was refined, it may still only prove to be a beneficial back up.

Dr. Hapworth did agree however, with the Renfrew Center's clinical director Doug Brunnell's estimation that the hair test might help illustrate the very real damage that is being done by anorexics and bulimics to their bodies. As Brunnell points out, denial is a major component of many eating disorders, and having hard evidence in the form of this new hair test may help show even early stage eating disorder patients the physical effects that their behaviors are having on their body.

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