Researcher Pushes Medical Professionals to Examine Cardiac Biomarker in Eating Disorder Patients

Research continues to prove that a cardiac biomarker is an important key to assessing treatment progress in women with eating disorders.

A three-year, full-scale study involving 180 participants is now underway at Cornell College following a preliminary trial with promising findings.

“We found that people with eating disorders have decreased force of contractions in their heart (decreased mean R wave amplitude),” said Professor of Psychology Dr. Melinda Green, who is leading the study. “That may lead to inadequate blood supply to tissues in the body. We are hypothesizing that this is a marker that gets worse as their symptoms get worse.”

In August, the National Institutes of Mental Health announced $400,000worth of funding support for the project as Green continues to expand the study.

“I didn’t expect with the preliminary trial that the cardiac indices would change as quickly as they did.  After only four weeks of treatment, we saw improvement in cardiac function,” Green said. “That preliminary data was based on 50 participants, we are exploring these findings in our larger sample to see if they replicate. If so, this promising data would suggest we can improve cardiac function in eating disorder patients with a 4-week group treatment program.”

Green is using cardiac indices as one marker to test treatment efficacy. Researchers are in their first year of testing the efficacy of two group-based therapy programs. One group is going through what Green calls the “gold standard” of therapy programs, Eric Stice’s “The Body Project,” which focuses on the idea of denouncing the thin ideal. A second group is going through that same program while adding a focus on therapy related to two additional eating disorder risk factors: self-objectification and maladaptive upward social comparison. Program participants from both groups will be compared to a third group of participants who read an educational brochure from the National Eating Disorder Association and received referral resources.

Throughout the study, researchers are assessing the participants to check their cardiac biomarkers and eating disorder symptoms to assess the degree of improvement with each treatment program. Green says her goal with her research is to make more people aware of the most effective ways to prevent and treat eating disorders and their associated cardiac risks. After more than 15 years of researching eating disorders, the psychology professor is a big advocate for starting to put her findings to good use. In fact, she recently published another paper on the topic showing that the mean R wave amplitude is a promising biomarker to indicate levels of eating disorder symptoms.

“This cardiac biomarker has been recognized in starving patients since the 1940s. However, few people talk about it, and it’s rarely assessed with eating disorder patients in mainstream hospitals,” Green said. “My mission is to increase awareness of this marker because we are seeing it’s the most sensitive cardiac marker. This most recent paper just shows yet again, it’s the best cardiac predictor of eating disorder symptoms. So we keep putting it out there that our medical community needs to be assessing this. We need to be looking at this marker in these patients. It’s a great marker whether to indicate whether patients are recovering; it’s a great marker to indicate if treatment is working.”

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