A Closer Look at the Genetics of Eating Disorders

Woman suffering from eating disorder

Woman suffering from eating disorder

Scientists have long asked whether genetics cause an eating disorder (ED).

Genetics can play a role in the development of the condition, but EDs take shape as a result of various factors. These include various biological, psychological, societal, and environmental influences.

As genetics and EDs intertwine, researchers have discovered that a genetic approach could pave the way for new forms of treatment for an eating disorder. Researchers are looking into the role of genetics and early eating habits in the development of the condition.

An Intense Fear of Losing Weight

Data from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders indicate that over 30 million people in the US have an ED. The condition affects mostly women between the ages of 12 and 35, and the most common types of disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Those struggling with an ED experience severe disturbances in their eating patterns as well as their related thoughts and emotions. Often, they become too preoccupied with food and their body weight.

In most cases, EDs accompany other psychiatric-related disorders, such as panic, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other alcohol and drug problems. With proper medical care, however, those diagnosed with an ED can start eating healthy and restore their emotional and psychological health.

Moving Away from Psychological Risk Factors

While previous studies focus on the psychological risk factors of EDs, like body image and self-esteem, researchers are taking an alternative approach. Veering away from the usually discussed social aspect of EDs, scientists are taking a closer look at a person’s traits and dispositions.

Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, researchers have been determining the genetic code associated with variations in weight. So far, they have been successful in narrowing down the genes in the brain that control appetite. And these depend on responsiveness to food cues like taste, smell, and sight.

Dr. Clare Llewellyn, one of the authors of the study, shares that the brain is responsible for controlling appetites. And she believes that the code related to genetic susceptibility to an ED may be similar to the code that affects body mass index.

With more targeted research, scientists could easily detect EDs through patient screening programs.

Understanding Adolescent Eating Habits

Woman having no appetite to eat the salad

The study also explores how feeding practices at home could influence a child’s eating habits during adolescence. But the research doesn’t aim to criticize potentially harmful feeding practices — instead, it sheds light on what techniques parents can use to help their children develop a healthy relationship with food at an early age.

To learn more about a child’s traits and dispositions towards food, the researchers plan to analyze data about a child’s mental health as well as parental factors from birth through their teenage years.

The study holds potential since it informs parents of healthy eating practices and could pave the road to more targeted treatment in the future.

Environmental and socio-cultural factors play a significant role in the development of an eating disorder. And narrowing down those susceptible to the EDs lies in a clear understanding of the genetics of the condition. By turning to genetics, rewriting the ED-narrative and achieving a long-lasting recovery is possible.

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Medical Disclaimer

The information provided on this website is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. The content on the website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, treatment, or advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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