Lift The Veil On Certain Aspects Of How Eating Disorders Develop
Previous studies, which highlighted a genetic association between a high risk of anorexia nervosa and a low risk of obesity, have begun to lift the veil on certain aspects of how eating disorders develop that had been mostly neglected until then, said Professor Nadia Micali, Department of Psychiatry at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and Head of the Division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the HUG, who directed this work.
The team was a coalition from the University of Geneva , the University Hospitals of Geneva , Kings College London, the University College London, the University of North Carolina and The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
However, the same work has not been done for the two other major eating disorders: bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. The goal of our study was to understand similarities and differences amongst all eating disorders in the role of genes governing body weight.
Anorexia Is An Eating Disorder That Can Easily Develop In People With A Family History Of The Disorder Read About The Role Of Genetics In Anorexia
Yes, anorexia can be genetic. In recent years, family studies have shown that a persons biology can contribute to the development of anorexia. According to the organization Eating Disorder Hope, people with a family member who has an eating disorder are about 7 to 12 percent more likely to develop an eating disorder when compared with the general population.
Eating Disorders As A Biological Illness
According to the Mayo Clinic, they report that these findings are able to help researchers, medical providers, therapists, and treatment teams to see eating disorders as a biological illness, where individuals share temperament predispositions. Still, researchers feel that there are environmental factors in the role of the development of an eating disorder, up to 50-70% is genetic, while 30-50% is environmental.
In a Canadian Study on anorexia, it was found that those who struggle with anorexia over a long period of time, a persons brain changes how ones genes are expressed, otherwise known as epigenetics. It works by a process called methylation where the level of methylation of a gene determines whether the gene is turned off or not .
According to Howard Steiger, a researcher on the study states that eating disorders are known to have a tendency to become more entrenched over time, and these findings point to physical mechanisms acting upon physiological and nervous system functions throughout the body.
In a further study by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, researchers found that eating disorders and alcohol dependence may share some of the same genes . Data gathered from 6,000 adult twins in Australia, it was found that common genetic factors underlie alcoholism and certain eating disorder symptoms, such as binge eating and purging habits that include self-induced vomiting and the abuse of laxatives.
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What Research Has Found About Hereditary Eating Disorders
In 2012, clinicians at Michigan State University studied a group of 300 female twins, ages 1224, who shared the same genetic code. Their objective was to determine how many of these subjects internalized a “thin ideal” as their desired physique. Based on how each set of twins ranked their preference for thinness, these researchers were able to conclude that over 40% of participants had a genetic predisposition to thin idealization.1 In fact, this hereditary component was noted to cause disordered eating behaviors at a higher rate than social, cultural, or environmental impacts.
Another study conducted at the University of North Carolina found a correlation between the formation of anorexia and genetic anomalies in chromosome 12. These scientists examined the genetic material of 3,500 adolescents across the globe who had been diagnosed with anorexia and observed that many people in this group had some degree of mutation in their chromosome 12.2 This further implicates heredity as a potential risk factor in the development of eating disorders.
Genetics Of Eating Disorders
- Cynthia M. BulikCorrespondenceCorresponding author. Department of Psychiatry, UNC Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina, CB 7160, Chapel Hill, NC 27599AffiliationsDepartment of Psychiatry, UNC Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina, CB 7160, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USADepartment of Nutrition, University of North Carolina, CB 7400, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USADepartment of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Nobels väg 12A, SE-171 77, Stockholm, Sweden
- Lauren BlakeAffiliationsDepartment of Human Genetics, University of Chicago, Cummings Life Science Center, 920 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA
- Jehannine AustinAffiliationsDepartment of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, Translational Lab Building Room a3-112 3rd Floor, 938 West 28th Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia V5Z 4H4, CanadaDepartment of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia, Translational Lab Building Room a3-112 3rd Floor, 938 West 28th Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia V5Z 4H4, Canada
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Genes Connected To Personality Traits
Some genes identified in the contribution to eating disorders have been shown to be associated with specific personality traits. They are believed to be highly heritable and often exist prior to the onset of the eating disorder. These traits are:
- Obsessive thinking
- Sensitivity to reward and punishment
- Emotional instability
- Rigidity .
Genetic Factors Behind Eating Disorders must take into consideration families. Family studies of those with anorexia and bulimia have found a higher lifetime prevalence of eating disorders among relatives of eating disorders .
Twin studies also suggest that both anorexia and bulimia are significantly influenced by genetic factors. When looking at the differences between identical and fraternal twins, correlations are two times greater in identical twins of eating disorders .
Why Considering Heredity Can Help In Eating Disorder Recovery
While it is possible that my genetic code and family of origin contributed to the earliest symptoms of my eating disorder, just like any mental illness, this issue is complex and can trace its roots to a number of sources. For example, as a teenager, I was bullied for my appearance which resulted in a distorted body image and a restrictive mindset toward food. Of course, I was also not immune to the media’s standard of female beauty, and I consumed all sorts of messagesboth on TV and in printthat “skinny” equals attractive, desirable, and successful.
But the question still remains, would I have been less susceptible to internalizing harmful body perceptions if there was no generational pattern of this in my own family? I cannot answer that with absolute certainty, but I do know that taking into account the possible connection between eating disorders and heredity has created a framework to better understand why I am more vulnerable to body image-centric triggers than some other people are. It has enabled me to feel more compassion for myself, whereas I used to berate myself for being “too weak” to resist behaviors which seemed out of my control. And ultimately, it has taught me to become mindful of this predisposition I have so that when I notice an instinctive shift toward the disordered eating mentality, I can refocus my thoughts or actions in a much healthier, kinder direction.
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The Different Causes Of Eating Disorders
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
When a person gets sick, it’s natural to want to understand why. With eating disorders, which are associated with many myths and negative stereotypes, the question of causation can be especially confusing.
The culture at large commonly blames eating disorders on oversimplified explanations, such as the medias promotion of unrealistically slender models or on bad parenting. Even some health professionals buy into these explanations.
But research shows that familieslongtime scapegoatsdo not cause eating disorders, at least not in any simple, straightforward manner.
While growing up in a dysfunctional home could increase the risk for a number of psychological problems, including eating disorders, it does not condemn a child to an eating disorder or any other psychological disorder.
What Causes An Eating Disorder
Causes and RisksEating Disorders are very complex illnesses. We still dont fully understand what causes them. Many things are involved, including a persons personality, mental health, genetic and biological factors, and social environment. The reasons are different for each person.
Some risk factors for developing an eating disorder are:
- a need to be perfect
- low self-esteem
- social pressure to be thin
- problems coping and dealing with stress
- having few or no friends
- abuse or trauma
- taking part in a sport or activity that puts a lot of emphasis on weight or size
- type 1 diabetes
Even though we dont understand all the causes of eating disorders, we can still effectively treat them. There is evidence to show that many therapies reduce eating disorder symptoms. These therapies focus on the factors that contribute to eating problems rather than the root cause. Visit the treatment section to learn more about the different types of treatment for eating disorders.
I had so many overwhelming feelings at this time in my life, and no idea what to do with them. Bingeing and purging was a temporary release for me, although I realize now that each bulimic episode was only intensifying my feelings. ~Sara
Eating Disorders and the Media
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Do Eating Disorders Run In Families
Research has shown that having a parent or sibling with an eating disorder elevates a persons risk of developing an eating disorder. Other family factors in eating disorders relate to the household that a person is raised in and the messages that they receive from family members and caregivers. Family influence on eating disorders can occur when a family member is critical of a persons weight, body or looks. Individuals that are raised by controlling parents who value thinness can develop a distorted body image.
Are Eating Disorders Genetic
What are the causes of an eating disorder? This is a common question patients ask when entering treatment at CEDARS, or a question that frequently comes from loved ones. It can be helpful to understand why someone may be suffering and whether this is something that can be prevented.
Determining the cause of eating disorders can often be complex and for some time, the causes of eating disorders were not fully understood. However, recent research has begun to shed more light on the causes of eating disorders revealing that although complex, there are often specific factors such as genes and environment that can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.
It has been established that genetics do play a role in developing an eating disorder.
Eating disorders do run in families. Specifically, individuals who have a family member with anorexia nervosa are up to 11 times more likely to develop an eating disorder themselves. Additionally, 40-60% of the risk of developing an eating disorder is due to genetic factors.
Here are some highlights about genetics and eating disorders:
- No one knows for certain precisely which genes are linked into the development.
- In some individuals with eating disorders, certain identified chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion have been found to be unbalanced.
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How To Get Help
The health risks of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders can be serious or even fatal. However, these diseases are treatable. One such way to get help is by calling an eating disorder hotline. We are also here to help. You may contact us at Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists via phone , , or by filling out our contact form.
A Plausible Scenario Of How Genes Might Influence Eating Disorders
A question commonly posed by clinicians, families and patients alike is, how do genes work in influencing risk for eating disorders? The lay conception of genetics tends to over-emphasize the deterministic aspect of genetic risk. Modeled after Mendelian one gene-one disorder examples , the misperception emerges that there is one gene for anorexia nervosa and if you have that gene you are destined to develop the condition. Clinicians are well-positioned to dispel these myths and offer more realistic albeit complicated explanations for complex inheritance patterns. By definition, eating disorders are complex traits. That means that their inheritance pattern in families does not follow traditional Mendelian patterns, and that they are influenced by multiple genetic and environmental factors of small to moderate effect. There is not one gene for anorexia nervosa or one gene for bulimia nervosa. More likely there are a number of genes that code for proteins that influence traits that index vulnerability to these disorders. Complicating the risk picture even further, these genes exist in concert with other genetic factors that may confer protection against eating disorders, along with main effects of risk and protective environments, as well as gene x environment interplay as we discuss in the following section.
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Are Eating Disorders Hereditary Is There A Genetic Link
Are eating disorders hereditary? What is the connection between eating disorders and heredity? Are some people more genetically predisposed to these illnesses than others? Sure, psychosocial factorssuch as environmental influence and media exposurecan lead to disordered eating behaviors, but what about the biological piece? It strikes me as curious that my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all exhibited tendencies around both food and body image that I know to be consistent with eating disorders. And moreover, I cannot help but wonder if there is a genetic link between these patterns of generational dysfunction and my own battle with anorexia. So this curiosity has prompted me to delve into what science might reveal in terms of eating disorders and heredity.
New Genetic Links Reveal Anorexia Could Be Much More Than A Psychiatric Condition
For the first time, scientists have identified a set of specific gene variants linked to anorexia nervosa, providing some of the strongest evidence yet that the eating disorder is not purely a psychiatric illness.
In a massive, six-year-long investigation involving researchers from over 100 institutions worldwide, scientists discovered eight genetic markers significantly associated with the condition, some of which suggest its origins are also tied to metabolism.
Previous research by some of the same team had already laid the groundwork for the new findings, identifying in 2017 the first genetic locus correlated with the condition, based on an analysis of approximately 3,500 anorexia cases and almost 11,000 controls.
Now, the scientist who led that effort, clinical psychologist Cynthia Bulik from the University of North Carolina, is back with an even broader genome-wide association study, and the implications could make us rethink a lot of the current assumptions about anorexia nervosa.
“Metabolic abnormalities seen in patients with anorexia nervosa are most often attributed to starvation, but our study shows metabolic differences may also contribute to the development of the disorder,” says one of the team, psychiatric geneticist Gerome Breen from King’s College London.
“Furthermore, our analyses indicate that the metabolic factors may play nearly or just as strong a role as purely psychiatric effects.”
The findings are reported in Nature Genetics.
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This Genetic Breakthrough On Anorexia Should Transform How The Disease Is Seen
A study showing a genetic link to the eating disorder shows how wrong it is to simplistically blame people for their illness
Once upon a time, disease was thought to have been sent by God as a punishment for sin.
If not, then it must surely be the work of demons, witches or groups regarded as social outcasts. Thankfully medicine has moved on from the days when Jews were blamed for outbreaks of the plague across medieval Europe, yet with psychiatric illnesses something of the old accusatory myths seem to linger. Until relatively recently, autism was still wrongly blamed on so-called refrigerator mothers, who supposedly damaged their children by being cold and unloving. The discovery that autism has a genetic component turned our understanding of the role it plays in families upside down, and now something similar may be happening with anorexia.
New research on DNA samples from thousands of anorexics has found a link to genes involved in regulating metabolism, as well as those connected with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders. The deadly compulsion to starve yourself, to put it crudely, is not all in the mind but also has something to do with the way the body processes food. That may not necessarily come as an enormous surprise to doctors its not the first time research has linked eating disorders to a broken metabolism but its potentially a breakthrough in how broader society views those who suffer from it, and perhaps how they see themselves.
Risk Factors For Specific Eating Disorders
Risk factor research focuses on identifying traits or experiences that precede the development of a specific disorder . For a risk factor to be shown as a causal factor, the risk factor must be shown to come before the development of the eating disorder. It also must be capable of being manipulated to prevent the occurrence of the disorder. For example, smoking is a causal risk factor for lung cancer it comes before the development of the disease, and not smoking reduces ones risk of developing lung cancer.
Because eating disorders are relatively rare and diverse disorders, it is difficult and expensive to perform the kinds of large and long-term studies needed to better assess risk factors.
To date, there is limited risk factor research that has successfully demonstrated causality, but a 2015 research study found these causal risk factors for eating disorders.
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The Challenge Of Finding Genes For Complex Diseases
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are fairly common, especially among women. They affect between 1 and 3 percent of women. They also are among the most lethal of all psychiatric diseases about 1 in 1,000 women will die from anorexia.
Finding genes associated with complex diseases like eating disorders is challenging. Scientists can analyze the genetics of thousands of people and use statistics to find common, low-risk gene variations, the accumulation of which causes complex disorders from psychiatric conditions like eating disorders to conditions like heart disease or obesity.
On the other end of the spectrum are very rare gene variants, which confer an almost 100 percent risk of getting the disease. To track down these variants, researchers turn to large families that are severely affected by an illness.
Lutter and his colleagues were able to work with two such families to identify the two new genes associated with eating disorders.
Its basically a matter of finding out what the people with the disorder share in common that people without the disease dont have, Lutter explains. From a theoretical perspective, its straightforward. But the difficulty comes in having a large enough group to find these rare genes. You have to have large families to get the statistical power.
In the new study, 20 members from three generations of one family , and eight members of a second family were analyzed.