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How Do Genetics Affect Eating Disorders

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Genetic Factors Behind Eating Disorders

Are Eating Disorders Genetic?

The genetic factors behind eating disorders may not be predictive of an eating disorder, but can contribute to the onset of a disorder. In some individuals with eating disorders, certain identified chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion have been found to be unbalanced .

Family, twin, and adoption studies have shown compelling evidence that genetic factors contribute to a predisposition for eating disorders . Those that are born with specific genotypes are at a heightened risk for the development of an eating disorder. Those who have a family member with an eating disorder, are 7-12 times more likely to develop an eating disorder.

Potential Environmental Buffering Effects For High

We have focused primarily on environmental risk factors and how they could plausibly interact with various facets of genetic vulnerability to increase risk for eating disorders. Given our inability to modify genetic risk in this point in time, it is critical to present a balanced picture of the environment. Just as both risk and protective genetic factors can exist, so can both risk and protective environmental factors. Also, protective factors may function differentially depending on the genotype of the exposed individual. Given the fields focus on pathology, much less is known about differential effects of buffering environmental factors based on genetic differences.

Family meals and breakfast eating

Distress tolerance/anxiety management

Reducing Weight and Shape-Related Attentional Biases

Previous studies have found that individuals with eating disorders manifest attentional biases toward weight and shape-related information . These biases are likely influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. However, a recent study found that these biases were reduced in women with eating disorders following completion of a specific form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Future research should investigate the effectiveness of incorporating some of these specific cognitive-behavioral techniques into prevention programs targeting high-risk individuals.

Biological Factors Within The Body

As described in the previous sections of this article, the most important elements of the biology of the human body for the development of an ED from a genetic perspective include the microbiome, the metabolic system, the immune system and the brain .


It has been hypothesized that microbes in the gastrointestinal tract manipulate their hosts eating behaviour to increase microbe fitness. Microbes may do this through generating cravings for foods that they specialize on or foods that suppress their competitors, or inducing dysphoria until individuals eat foods for the benefit of the microbes in their body.115 Such nutritional and environmental factors can lead to dysbiosis of the microbiome, which, as a consequence, alters the production of SCFAs, including acetic, propionic and butyric acid ,110 and of certain enzymes, including ClpB .121 As explained previously, the bacteria and the molecules they produce influence the metabolic system, the immune system, and the brain.3032,106121

Metabolic and endocrine system

Immune system


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How Can Someone Participate In Edgi And What Is It Like

Participation in the EDGI research study is confidential and easy. If you are 18 or older21 in Puerto Ricofirst, you complete an online survey. If youre a good fit for the study, you are invited to complete more online surveys about eating, mood and life experiences and are sent a saliva sampling kit for DNA. After finishing the surveys and returning the saliva kit, you receive a $20 Amazon gift card. If you live in another country, you can explore other EDGI locations.

Our hope is that the results will help us develop new treatments that target the biology of the illnesses and help us to move toward a personalized medicine approach instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to the treatment of eating disorders.

Only with the participation of people who have experienced eating disorders at any point in their lives can we achieve our goal of eliminating these devastating illnesses.

Rare Variants With Mendelian Segregation

Experts share how to help someone with an eating disorder

In one recent study, using whole-exome analysis in two independent families with male individuals with AN, the authors found variants in the neuronatin gene in both probands: one nonsense variant and one rare variant in the 5UTR, respectively . Afterward, to confirm their data, a screening of the NNAT was conducted in a cohort of eight male and 144 female individuals with AN, and a further 11 NNAT variants were found, showing that 40% and 6% of male and female AN individuals carried an NNAT variant, respectively. The protein encoded by NNAT is a proteolipid that might be involved in the regulation of ion channels during brain development. The encoded protein might also participate in the maintenance of segment identity in the hindbrain and pituitary development .

In a study published in 2014 , the authors analyzed a series of 152 candidate genes involved in feeding behaviors, dopamine function, serotonin signaling, and genes previously associated using GWAS, such as OPRD1 and EPHX2 , to identify genetic variants that contribute to AN. DNA sequencing was performed in a cohort of about 700 AN, and rare EPHX2 variants were identified as significantly associated with AN .

In the other study, the authors, following whole-exome sequencing in nine female AN individuals and their parents, found seven de novo variants. Of them, four are present in genes and participate in the dopamine pathway and neuron differentiation: CSMD1 , CREB3 , PTPRD , and GAB1 .

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Causes Of Eating Disorders

image by Victor Svensson Eating disorders are often biologically inherited and tend to run in families. Research suggests that inherited these genetic factors contribute approximately 56% of the risk for developing an eating disorder. People who have a mother or a sister with anorexia are approximately twelve times more likely to develop anorexia than those without a family history. They are also four times more likely to develop bulimia than those without a family history. Studies of twins have shown a higher rate of eating disorders when they are identical . Research has also focused on abnormalities in the structure or activity of the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a brain structure responsible for regulating eating behaviors. Studies suggest that the hypothalamus of those with bulimia may not trigger a response feeling of being full or finished eating. Because of this, even after a meal, they do not feel full.

Research suggests that several different neurotransmitters in the brain are involved in eating disorders. The brain uses a number of chemicals as messengers to communicate with other parts of the brain and nervous system. These chemical messengers, known as neurotransmitters, are essential to all of the brain’s functions. Since they are messengers, they typically come from one place and go to another to deliver their messages. Where one neuron or nerve cell ends, another one begins.

Use Your Heightened Awareness To Your Advantage

Some people can go on a diet, or start a rigid exercise routine, and never develop an eating disorder.

But you are not the same as everyone else. You are at a greater risk, and you should do everything in your power to avoid environmental triggers that may activate an underlying eating disorder.

To avoid developing an eating disorder:

  • Do not engage in restrictive or crash diets, or any dieting fads

  • Avoid diet-centric talk and media

  • Learn how to manage stressors

  • Practice intuitive eating

  • Avoid alcohol and substance use, as they are highly correlated with eating disorders

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Treating Anorexia As A Genetic Disorder

Ultimately, of course, the investigators hope that this research might suggest new possibilities for treatment.

“The long-term goal is to identify those aspects of brain-related function that influence development, behavior, and personality, and help us refine the search for potentially more effective pharmacotherapies,” says Michael Strober, MD, professor of psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is also director of the Eating Disorders Program at the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA.

But while new medicines may help, Strober is quick to say he doubts anorexia and bulimia will ever be treated solely with medication. “More effective new medications will be important, but a combination of approaches is essential. The importance of psychotherapy should never be minimized.”

Drug treatments based on the new research are probably a long way off. But in the meantime, study results may help improve current treatment approaches. “It potentially gives us a frame of reference for psychological treatment, allowing us to better target the therapeutic approaches that may help,” says Strober.

  • Obsessive
  • Impulsive

Many experts also hope that the growing evidence for a genetic component to anorexia and bulimia will help make the case for better access to treatment of these disorders, and improved insurance coverage of such treatment.

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How Do Genetics Play A Role In Eating Disorders

Dr. Cyntha Bulik: Q& A About Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Study

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses. Many factors influence whether someone will develop an eating disorder, including genetics, thinking stylessuch as perfectionismbody dissatisfaction, and societal or cultural pressures to be thin. Although environment definitely plays a role, recent research has shown that between 40 and 60 percent of the vulnerability to develop an eating disorder is due to genetic factors. Our latest global study revealed that the genetic factors that influence anorexia nervosa are related to both psychological and metabolic factors. For example, some of the same genes that increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes decrease your risk for developing anorexia nervosa. This work suggested that anorexia nervosa is a metabo-psychiatric illness and may explain why some people living with the disorder struggle to gain weight despite their best efforts.

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Research Studies Support Genetic Influence

Formal genetic studies on twins and families have suggested a substantial genetic influence for the three types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa , bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder .

Twin studies show that the heritability rate ranges from 0.48 to 0.74, meaning that up to 74% of phenotypic variation can be explained by additive genetic factors. Heritability of BN is estimated to be between 0.55 and 0.62. As for BED, twin studies have estimated its heritability to be between 0.39 and 0.45.

Eating disorders are also strongly familial. For example, researchers find that the relative risk for AN is elevated fourfold in family members of AN probands, and female relatives of AN patients are up to eleven times more likely to develop AN than individuals who do not have relatives with AN.

In one family study, 158,697 children with an age range between 12 and 24 years were included and were followed for a median of 5.4 years between 1996 and 2007.

This study found good evidence that ED in parents is associated with ED in their children. The observed association between parental history of ED and ED incidence in children was robust and appeared to be independent of a range of other risk factors. Specifically, rates of eating disorders are twofold higher in the offspring of parents with a diagnosed eating disorder.

Could Genetics Influence What We Like To Eat

Have you ever wondered why you keep eating certain foods, even if you know they are not good for you? Gene variants that affect the way our brain works may be the reason, according to a new study. The new research could lead to new strategies to empower people to enjoy and stick to their optimal diets.

Silvia Berciano, a predoctoral fellow at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, will present the new findings at the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions and annual meeting during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting, to be held April 22-26 in Chicago.

“Most people have a hard time modifying their dietary habits, even if they know it is in their best interest,” said Berciano. “This is because our food preferences and ability to work toward goals or follow plans affect what we eat and our ability to stick with diet changes. Ours is the first study describing how brain genes affect food intake and dietary preferences in a group of healthy people.”

Although previous research has identified genes involved with behaviors seen in eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, little is known about how natural variation in these genes could affect eating behaviors in healthy people. Gene variation is a result of subtle DNA differences among individuals that make each person unique.

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Eating Disorders And Heredity

Although family history can elevate a persons risk for developing an eating disorder, it does not necessarily guarantee it. Eating disorders can be hereditary due to genetic factors that make a person more susceptible but is not the sole reason for the development of a disorder.

Certain genes linked to personality traits have been shown to contribute to eating disorders. These personality factors are pervasive, enduring and extremely heritable. Some personality traits include obsessive thinking, perfectionism and emotional instability. Other traits include rigidity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity and harm avoidance. These traits elevate a persons predisposition to acquiring an eating disorder.

How Genetics Play A Role In Eating Disorders

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The after-school TV specials of the 1980s got it wrong eating disorders do not only affect teen girls and are not caused by peer pressure, diets and womens fashion magazines. In fact, eating disorders affect people of every age, gender, race and socioeconomic group. A recent study found that biology and family history play a key role in determining a persons risk for developing anorexia nervosa or bulimia.

Anorexia characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss and bulimia marked by binge eating and purging are psychiatric disorders with high mortality rates. Understanding their cause is necessary to successfully identify and treat the estimated 30 million Americans with eating disorders. More than 20 million women and 10 million men meet the criteria for an eating disorder at some time in their lives.

Genes play more of a role in eating disorders than previously thoughtThrough the study of twins and the genes of people diagnosed with an eating disorder, researchers have been able to establish that eating disorders are 50 to 60 percent heritable. This means that there is a genetic predisposition for the illnesses a change in peoples genes makes them susceptible to eating disorders, just as some people are predisposed to cancer, heart disease and addiction.

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What Is The Most Rewarding Part Of Conducting Your Research

I feel incredibly blessed to be working with such an amazing group of people here at UNC-Chapel Hill and literally around the globe who have taken the time and the effort to pull together samples and who are willing to share their data. They are all supportive and collaborative. Its amazing.

Were all dedicated to the same cause. Whether its eating disorders or substance use, we all want to help individuals with mental illness, and were all very passionate about it, so its great to be working alongside those individuals. Mental health shouldnt be stigmatized.

Epigenetics: This Emerging Field Could Explain Why Some Family Members Develop An Eating Disorder And Some Dont

Epigenetics is, in very simple terms, the study of why some genes express themselves, while others do not. A huge focus in this field of study is the role one’s environment and behaviors plays in gene expression.

Two people in a family may both share genetic code, but only one may express that gene in this case, the genes related to eating disorders. That gene may be activated by environmental factors, activating an eating disorder.

For example, two people may both have a genetic predisposition for an eating disorder. However, only the person who is constantly exposed to diet culture will go on to develop one.

Epigenetic changes in gene expression are reversible. So while you can’t really change your genetic code, youcan change your environment and your behaviors you can recover, no matter what your genetic code is or what your past experiences are.

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Genetics And Eating Disorders

The single most exciting development in eating disorder science is the evidence that eating disorders are genetically linked. But what does this mean for YOUR family member?

The news about eating disorder genetics is a game-changer. The rapidly developing insights about how genetics influence our brains and our metabolism have immediate and urgent importance for your family. You need not become an expert in genetics to use this information to support your person starting today.

Key points from recent genetic discoveries:

  • Genes do not act alone
  • Genes are not destiny
  • Genes help explain why some people are more vulnerable to environmental factors
  • Genetic research now points to both psychiatric and metabolic factors

Key caregiving insights from recent genetic research:

  • The necessity of adequate nourishment
  • The value of a non-dieting environment
  • Avoid negative energy balance* throughout the lifespan

People noticed long ago that eating disorders run in families. We now know that some people are born with a higher chance of being diagnosed with an eating disorder. Research indicates that 50-80% of a persons risk can be explained by genetic factors. Yet there is no single gene behind the risk of an eating disorder as there is for some diseases, but rather hundreds of genes of small effect.

*Negative energy balance is when a person is taking in less energy through food than their body is using.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Is Anorexia In Your Genes?

A variety of cognitive pathways are involved in motivation and control of eating behavior. The new use of neuroimaging techniques, specifically functional magnetic resonance imaging , to demonstrate specific neural reactions in response to food stimulus is revolutionizing the study of eating behavior. Other imaging techniques, such as position emission tomography studies have been previously used to investigate neural responses to taste and identify neural pathways involved in eating behavior.61 FMRI has previously been well-established in identify pathology in studies of schizophrenia,62 Alzheimerâs disease,63 and many other areas of neuroscience research. Nearly all FMRI studies utilize blood oxygen level dependence to identify areas in the brain that demonstrate increased glucose uptake and therefore increased activity in response to specific stimuli. Eating behavior research utilizing FMRI has focused on BOLD changes in specific brain regions in obese compared to normal weight individuals.

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