• Birmingham, C. Laird

    Affiliate Investigator, BC Children's Hospital
    Professor, Division of Behavioural Sciences, Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia
    Medical Director, Woodstone Residential Treatment Centre for Eating Disorders, Galiano Island
    Member, Brain Research Centre, University of British Columbia
    Degrees / Designations
    B.Sc., MD, MHSc.
    Primary Area of Research
    Brain, Behaviour & Development
    Secondary Area(s) of Research
    Lab Phone
    Mailing Address
    Department of Psychiatry
    Room 1813 Detwiller Pavilion
    University Hospital
    2255 Wesbrook Mall
    University of British Columbia
    V6T 2A1
    Affiliate Websites
    Research Areas
    • Eating disorders
    • Nutrition
    • Anorexia nervosa
    • Bulimia nervosa
    • Epidemiology

    Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disease. Half of deaths are due to suicide and half from medical causes. Patients take an average of 7 years to recover and 40 to 50 per cent never recover. Young women are most likely to develop anorexia nervosa, but their families, husbands, children, and friends are also severely impacted by the disease.

    Anorexia nervosa is likely caused by a malfunction of the fear centre of the brain (the amygdala). This malfunction is hastened in those with a predisposition (usually genetic) who have been exposed to significant weight loss and stress (involving the limbic system of which the amygdala is a part). The relationship between medical factors, like specific nutrients, has an important role in this.

    Current Projects
    Could diet cause anorexia nervosa by altering brain function?

    The diet of people who suffer from anorexia nervosa is very abnormal. Tests of brain function show that the brain works abnormally in anorexia nervosa. Based on a new idea we have, we are going to test the genetic code for a specific part of brain function as well as the effect of specific nutrients on this part of brain function. This could result in a better understanding of anorexia nervosa and a new treatment.

    Does use of sauna help patients with anorexia nervosa recover?

    A colleague in Spain, Emilio Gutierrez, observed that cold rats exercised more and ate less and that warming caused opposite behaviour. We have shown that warming with electric jackets is beneficial in anorexia nervosa in an experimental study. Dr. Gutierrez has observed that the sauna is better – but has not tested this experimentally. We are going to test the usefulness of sauna and try to determine what it does in humans.

    How much do eating disorders cost in comparison to other diseases?

    I am undertaking a series of analysis using decision analysis software. So far we have reported the cost of long term disability, the life expectancy, and the reduction in life expectancy with anorexia nervosa.

    Selected Publications

    Guh DP, Zhang W, Bansback N, Amarsi Z, Birmingham CL, Anis AH.: The incidence of co-morbidities related to obesity and overweight: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. 2009 Mar 25;9:88.

    Clave-Brule M, Mazloum A, Park RJ, Harbottle EJ, Birmingham CL.: Managing anxiety in eating disorders with knitting. Eat Weight Disord. 2009 Mar;14(1):e1-5.

    Birmingham CL, Touyz S, Harbottle J.: Are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa separate disorders? Challenging the 'transdiagnostic' theory of eating disorders. Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2009 Jan;17(1):2-13.

    Mazloum A, Johnston M, Lundrigan M, Birmingham CL.: The interrater reliability of rating non-exercise activity of inpatients with eating disorders using a visual analogue scale. Eat Weight Disord. 2008 Dec;13(4):e100-2.

    Abraham NK, Birmingham CL.: Is there evidence that religion is a risk factor for eating disorders? Eat Weight Disord. 2008 Dec;13(4):e75-8.

    Harbottle EJ, Birmingham CL, Sayani F.: Anorexia nervosa: a survival analysis. Eat Weight Disord. 2008 Jun;13(2):e32-4.

    Birmingham CL, Sidhu FK. An algorithm for the diagnosis of Münchausen's syndrome in eating disorders. Eat Weight Disord. 2007 Dec;12(4):e75-7.

    Lear SA, Humphries KH, Kohli S, Birmingham CL. The use of BMI and waist circumference as surrogates of body fat differs by ethnicity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Nov;15(11):2817-24.

    Lear SA, Humphries KH, Frohlich JJ, Birmingham CL. Appropriateness of current thresholds for obesity-related measures among Aboriginal people. CMAJ. 2007 Dec 4;177(12):1499-505.

    Birmingham CL, Sidhu FK. Complementary and alternative medical treatments for anorexia nervosa: case report and review of the literature. Eat Weight Disord. 2007 Sep;12(3):e51-3. Review.

    Procyshyn RM, Wasan KM, Thornton AE, Barr AM, Chen EY, Pomarol-Clotet E, Stip E, Williams R, Macewan GW, Birmingham CL, Honer WG; Clozapine and Risperidone Enhancement Study Group. Changes in serum lipids, independent of weight, are associated with changes in symptoms during long-term clozapine treatment. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Sep;32(5):331-8.

    Lear SA, Humphries KH, Kohli S, Chockalingam A, Frohlich JJ, Birmingham CL. Visceral adipose tissue accumulation differs according to ethnic background: results of the Multicultural Community Health Assessment Trial (M-CHAT).Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Aug;86(2):353-9.

    Lear SA, Humphries KH, Kohli S, Frohlich JJ, Birmingham CL, Mancini GB.Visceral adipose tissue, a potential risk factor for carotid atherosclerosis: results of the Multicultural Community Health Assessment Trial (M-CHAT).Stroke. 2007 Sep;38(9):2422-9. Epub 2007 Aug 2.

    Birmingham CL, Cardew S, Gritzner S.Gastric bezoar in anorexia nervosa. Eat Weight Disord. 2007 Jun;12(2):e28-9. Birmingham CL, Gritzner S.Heart failure in anorexia nervosa: case report and review of the literature. Eat Weight Disord. 2007 Mar;12(1):e7-10. Review

    Honours & Awards

    2008 – Academic Associate Editor BMC Psychiatry
    2008 – Editor Board Member, Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention
    2007 – Co-Chair, Medical Special Interest Group, Academy of Eating Disorders
    2007 – Fellow of the International Academy of Eating Disorders
    2001-7 – Chairman, Neuroimaging Special Interest Group, Academy of Eating Disorders
    2004 – Associate Editor European Journal of Obesity & Eating Disorders
    1999-2004 – Visiting Professor, Eating Disorders Program, University of Sydney

    Research Group Members