Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

In the following months, researchers at the University of Carolina are getting ready to start one of the biggest scientific initiatives to understand binge eating. The BEGIN project (standing for Binge Eating Genetics Initiative), will employ 1,000 participants aged 18 and over, who have a history with binge eating or bulimia nervosa.

Apple partnered with researchers and will offer a free watch for each of the 1,000 participants, so that they can track their heart rate before and after binge eating episodes. According to doctors, episodes of binging and purging could be associated with a change in heart rate and observing this change could help researchers what exactly goes inside the bodies of those suffering from this eating disorder.

This isn’t the first time Apple watches are being used to further investigate and track health conditions. Earlier this year, Apple launched a new ResearchKit API that could monitor tremor and dyskinesia, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The device was also used to better understand postpartum depression. In November 2017, Apple partnered with Stanford Medicine and created the Apple Heart Study App to identify irregular heart rhythms and notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation. These features were eventually introduced on the Apple Watch Series 4, for which Apple was given clearance by the US Food and Drug Administration.

After enrollment, participants will receive a free Apple watch and all they have to do is wear it daily for a month. The data collected by the watch before and after binging and purging episodes will be sent to the researchers, so that they can analyze the biological changes going inside the body. To further understand the extent to which these episodes affect patients, the study will also put at participants’ disposal a free app called Recovery Record, where they can log their thoughts and share that information with their doctor. Because binge eating has a strong psychological component, understand the feelings and mood swings associated with episodes is crucial to developing the right treatment.

Participants will also receive free tests for genetic factors and bodily bacteria in the form of home testing kits, courtesy of start-up UBiome. The goal here is to determine whether changes in the gut bacteria could maintain eating disorder behavior or signal recovery or signs of relapse.

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The data collected in this study will be then forwarded to researchers from the University of Utah, who will create a statistical model.

Jenna Tregarthen, CEO of Recovery Record, said: “We’re interested to find out what happens in the time period leading up to the binge and the purge, and we hope we can anticipate and ultimately change the course of that episode”

Binge eating – one of the fastest growing eating disorders in the U.S.

The Binge Eating Genetics Initiative aims to gain more insight into one of most dangerous, yet also least understood and understudied eating disorders plaguing Americans. The latest data from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders shows that at least 2.8% of Americans suffer from Binge Eating Disorder (BED) in their lifetime and what’s worrying is that millions of cases go undiagnosed, the disorder taking its toll on people’s physical and mental health.

Every 60 minutes, someone dies in the U.S. because of an eating disorder. Analyzing the complex biological markers leading up to binging episodes could help researchers prevent and treat it.

Research becomes all the more important considering that binge eating is associated with comorbid mood and anxiety disorders, as well as substance abuse, usually alcohol. The connection between addition and binge eating has been made before, which is why modern rehab centers adopt a holistic approach. Combining the data received from Apple watches with the data received from Recovery Record could thus provide researchers with a comprehensive perspective on what happens before, during and after binge eating episodes.

A recent study released in July by the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior offered more insight into the similarities between binge eating and addiction. A small group of brain cells called “orexin” neurons control symptoms such as the sense of losing control, which also occurs in drug addiction. Targeting these brain cells with orexin blockers could be the next step in reducing the amount of food consumed during the binge eating episodes and offer patients a chance to take control of their lives and diets.

The BEGIN project is just one in a series of recent initiatives that aim to change the current state of events in the United States, where pharmacological treatments are currently limited for patients with eating disorders. Combined with the breakthrough therapies that are already being used in rehab centers, new medication could press pause on one of the most dangerous eating conditions in the United States.