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Could Anorexia Have Ties to Genetics?

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is a serious disorder that is characterized by significant weight loss and difficulty maintaining an appropriate body weight.  Almost all cases of anorexia involve a low intake of food resulting in low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, and body dysmorphia.  As a result of this condition, one can experience serious health consequences, including a slowed heart rate, reduction in bone density, muscle loss, and extreme dehydration which could ultimately result in kidney failure.

Anorexia is well known for having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with 5-20% of untreated cases resulting in death.  Across the United States, anorexia affects .3-.4% of young women and .1% of young men.  On a world-wide scale, the percentage of people suffering from anorexia seems to be on the rise. Percentages like these are pushing treatment facilities and other medical professionals to find a cure or alternative treatments for helping patients overcome this disorder.  A recent study may have come across some groundbreaking evidence that could change the way anorexia is treated in the future.

Anorexia and New Genetic Studies

Since 1980, anorexia has been considered strictly a mental disorder.  Methods developed for treating anorexia patients have always been based on the mental aspects of this disorder, and regularly included psychiatric care.  However, recent studies may have found a link between anorexia nervosa and genetics.  Scientists and industry professionals are hoping that this new information may shed some light on who is the most at risk to develop the disorder and how they can adjust their treatment methods in order to help more patients reach a full recovery.

The most recent study that researched anorexia’s ties to genetics was conducted by several institutions across the world over a period of six years.  Scientists compared the DNA of over 16,000 against over 55,000 patients without the disorder.  Their goal was to identify genetic differences that could be attributed to the formation of anorexia nervosa in certain patients.

Psychiatric geneticist, Gerome Breen from King’s College in London was one of the lead scientists in the experiment, “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.

Furthermore, our analyses indicate that the metabolic factors may play nearly or just as strong a role as purely psychiatric effects.

Overall, the study did find that there is evidence of metabolic factors that play a role in patients who develop the disorder.  While this correlation between psychiatric factors and the metabolic ones still needs to be defined, scientists are hopeful that this new information will help with early identification and diagnosis of the disorder in the future.

As a leading treatment center for anorexia nervosa, it is important for us to understand what this new data could mean to us and our patients.  For a deeper look into the information, we asked our Milieu Director and Registered Dietitian, Amy Good RD, LD what type of implications this data could have on the diagnosis of anorexia diagnosis and treatment in the future:

“The recent research into genetics and eating disorders is fascinating. We are furthering our understanding that the development of eating disorders isn’t necessarily nature versus nurture, but instead can be a multitude of factors that are both internal and external. Because of this, it’s important that we as health practitioners utilize a variety of treatment modalities which can include psychotherapy, nutrition rehabilitation, and potentially pharmacological interventions. I hope we continue to see new research like this that enables us to advance our understanding of these deadly diseases and fine tune our treatment to provide the most effective care possible.”

If you or a loved one are showing the warning signs of anorexia, feel free to contact us for more information.  The best way to fight this disorder is to seek help, and begin addressing the rituals which could ultimately become habit forming and life-threatening as the disorder develops.  Toledo Center has the experience needed to help individuals overcome anorexia and other eating disorders.  Our philosophy is to provide safe, compassionate care to those who are suffering.

To read more about this recent genetic study into the causes of anorexia, visit the link below:


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