Eating Disorder? Your Hair Knows

Dr. Kent HatchDr. Kent Hatch (Integrative Biology) and a team of colleagues have developed a method to diagnose eating disorders using hair samples. The team achieved 80 percent accuracy with five hairs from each participant.

Dr. Kent Hatch
Hatch and his team used a mass spectrometer to analyze the ratios of different types of nitrogen and carbon in each hair sample from patients at a clinic for women with eating disorders.
The development of a physiological test for anorexia and bulimia nervosa, which afflict one to five percent of young women in the United States, is important because of the inability of many who suffer from the conditions to recognize their illness and be honest about their eating practices.

“Currently, eating disorder diagnoses are based on some objective measures such as body mass index, but also on subjective evaluations and surveys that require accurate input from the patient,” said team leader Hatch. “Our work would give a clinician an objective measure, and we hope it will eventually allow a sound diagnosis at an earlier stage.”

Two undergraduates, Morgan Crawford and Amanda Kunz, ran the analyses and helped write the paper. “This was a fascinating project, and this type of research hasn’t really been done before, even though eating disorders are such a big problem,” said Crawford, now in her second year at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

“The hair is sort of like a tape recorder,” said Hatch. “It grows from the base and new hair is added as the strand is pushed up and out of the follicle. The person’s nutritional state affects the isotopic composition of the carbon and nitrogen (13C/12C and 15N/14N ratios) of the proteins added to the hair at that moment.”

 Co-author Steve Thomsen, has published several studies examining the impact of media on women’s diet and body image. “People with eating disorders are often unable or unwilling to discuss their dietary practices,” said Thomsen “But the hair can tell the story.”

Carping About Carp?—BYU Looks to Be Part of a Solution

Professor Kellems with students Adam Ottley and John Heng
Undergraduate students Adam Ottley and John Heng work in Kellems’ lab to assess the nutritional characteristics of enzymatically digested carp.
When pioneers arrived in Utah County over 150 years ago Utah Lake was filled with fish and other aquatic life. It has since lost most of its biological diversity and community attractiveness.

“Carp were introduced from Europe in the late 1800’s- perhaps as a potential protein source.” said Professor Richard Kellems (Plant and Animal Sciences). “They have dramatically changed the lake environment.”

Professor Kellems
Professor Kellems is researching ways to convert carp into viable marketable products.
“By their feeding, carp stir up soft sediments and create high levels of turbidity,” said Professor Mark Belk (Integrative Biology). “They root up soft vegetation which  keeps sediment down and serves as refuge from large predators for smaller fish such as the June sucker (now on the endangered species list). Turbidity reduces zooplankton and completely alters the energy flow of the lake. Historically there were large species of cutthroat trout (up to 30 pounds) in Utah Lake,” Belk said. “They’re now extinct.”

Federal, state and local agencies hope to improve the ecosystem of Utah Lake. On March 9, 2007 Governor Huntsman and mayors from cities adjacent to the lake signed a “Utah Lake Compact” to formalize the initiative.

“They plan to restore the lake to a recreational asset,” Kellems said. “Removing the carp is one of the first things to be done; 18,000 tons will have to go. A big question is what to do with all that fish.”

Kellems recently received a $57,000 grant from the Utah Department of Natural Resources to research ways to utilize carp. “Carp are a potentially valuable resource and should not just be put in a land fill and become yet another environmental problem,” he said.

Kellems and his students enzymatically digest carp and test the nutritional characteristics of the resulting product. They then evaluate various uses for their product such as animal feed, trout (hatchery) feed, pet food, etc.

In February of 2007, John Heng and fellow undergraduate Adam Ottley accompanied Kellems to present their research at a meeting in Mexico of Pacific Fishing Technologists focused on utilizing fishery wastes. “I’m pleased to be associated with an environmental issue in the local area,” said Heng, a business and pre-med major. “It’s great to get hooked up with something that helps the community.”