London: Anorexic women display clear autistic traits, even once the eating disorder is under control and they have achieved a normal weight, says a new study that sheds new light on how they should be treated.
The similarities between anorexia and autism in women are also seen in a part of the brain which process social skills, said the study.
"We need to know more in order to understand how this is all linked, but nevertheless it is a highly interesting discovery," said researcher Louise Karjalainen from Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
"It's obvious that anorexia care must be food-focused; this is primarily about saving lives, but there are also other key factors in reducing the risk of relapse and to get people healthy at all levels," she said in a university statement.
It has long been known that individuals with autism have disturbed eating behaviour.
However, it has been unclear whether typical autistic behaviour surrounding food also exists in those with anorexia nervosa.
Karjalainen examined around 30 women with anorexia nervosa between the ages of 15-25.
After a year when their health had generally begun to improve, they still had the negative thought patterns and behaviour around food that characterises individuals with autism,
"Their general eating patterns improved during the follow-up year, but it was specifically noteworthy that they were still at the same level in their autistic behaviour in terms of meal times," Karjalainen said.
A food smell that is unbearable, a dining companion making loud mouth noises or an aversion to the whole idea of eating together with others -- these were the types of things that could make women regress long after the acute stage of anorexia.
The autistic traits remained even after the body had been nourished and repaired, the study said.