Genetic link to anorexia ‘a big relief’ for patients

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New research showing a genetic link to the eating disorder may help reduce stigma and facilitate treatment.

Eight genes have been linked to anorexia nervosa, but researchers say that’s just the tip of the iceberg.


The study, published in Natural genetics, examined the DNA of 16,992 cases of anorexia nervosa from around the world and compared it to the genetic material of 55,525 controls. He identified eight genes with direct links to anorexia nervosa, which the researchers believe encourage a reconceptualization of the disease as a metabo-psychiatric disorder.

Nearly 3,000 Australians and New Zealanders have been recruited into the study, which QIMR Berghofer co-author and senior scientific professor Nicholas Martin says is a huge step forward in understanding the disease.

“It’s quite exciting, it’s the first clue we have about the genetic processes behind anorexia,” Prof Martin said.

“The results were interesting – we thought the genes would be mainly related to behavioral genes and that’s true for some of them, there’s a strong [genetic] link between anorexia and obsessive compulsive disorder, for example.

“But the other part we didn’t expect to see is strong links to metabolism, both in terms of build, body weight and genes involved in diabetes.”

He went on to say that this finding is likely to be the start of potentially more genetic links to the eating disorder.

‘I think there will be hundreds [more genes linked to anorexia], because for example, with schizophrenia, we are already at almost 200, while depression is around 100 and bipolar is around 30.

“So we’re absolutely sure there’s a lot more to be found, and it’s just a matter of getting a large enough sample.”

He says this research may be a breakthrough in how we view disease.

“By showing the role genetics plays in anorexia nervosa, we should be able to remove any remaining stigma associated with the disease for patients and their families, especially parents,” he said.

Dr Elizabeth Crouch, a general practitioner with a particular interest in eating disorders, said newsGP the results “make a lot of sense” because it’s common for patients with eating disorders to have a family history of the disease. She also agrees that it can help ease the guilt parents tend to feel about their children’s eating disorders.

“A lot of times when people have two or more kids with anorexia, they feel like people are judging them and saying, ‘There’s obviously something you’re doing wrong, because you have a number of people in your family with anorexia nervosa.’ Dr Croupton said.

“So far, it’s been hard to understand why some people can diet and be fine, and in others it can lead to anorexia.” So I think that’s going to be a big relief.

Dr-Elizabeth-Crouch-article.jpgDr. Elizabeth Crouch hopes the research findings will help reduce the stigma associated with an eating disorder where patients may feel responsible for their condition.

Dr. Crouch says it could also shatter harmful beliefs that people with an eating disorder are somehow to blame for their condition.

“I think a lot of people think that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice and that’s clearly not the case,” she said.

“People always say, ‘You don’t see people with anorexia in Africa’, but of course you do.

According to lead researcher Professor Cynthia Bulik, research can not only affect how the disease is perceived; this may also influence further processing.

“So far, we have focused on the psychological aspects of anorexia nervosa, such as patients’ desire for thinness,” she said.

“Our results strongly encourage us to also shine the torch on the role of metabolism to help understand why people with anorexia frequently fall back to dangerously low weights, even after therapeutic renutrition.

“Failure to consider the role of metabolism may have contributed to the poor record of medical professionals in treating this disease.”

Dr. Crouch says just being aware of a genetic link to this condition can also help tailor future treatment.
“If you know someone is at risk, I think it would be a really good thing to have a preventative program in place and also educate the family, so people are aware of the triggers,” he said. she declared.

“For example, if people are starting to lose weight, that could be a problem that could cause more problems. Knowing that means we’re looking for it and watching it more closely, so that would be a wonderful thing.

Professor Martin believes further research is needed to confirm the genetic links and is urging anyone with anorexia nervosa to take part in a follow-up study.

Its goal is to recruit 100,000 participants from around the world and encourages greater local participation after Australians and New Zealanders provided a fifth of the information needed to confirm the results of the current study.

“I want us to continue to play an important role in expanding our knowledge of eating disorders,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Health, anorexia nervosa occurs in about 0.5% of girls and young women and is “very rare” in men.

The condition has the highest mortality rate (20% in 20 years) of any mental illness.



anorexia nervosa genetic eating disorder


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