Metabolic factors contribute to anorexia

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A study finds that anorexia may not be a solely psychiatric condition.

New research has found that the eating disorder anorexia nervosa is not purely a psychiatric condition but is also driven by metabolic factors.

Anorexia nervosa affects between 1 per cent and 4 per cent of women and about 0.3 per cent of men.

Scientists made the discovery after comparing the DNA of nearly 17,000 people with anorexia and more than 55,000 healthy controls. The study is published in the journal Nature Genetics (July 2019).

The study revealed eight genes that linked anorexia to anxiety, depression and obsessive–compulsive disorder, all of which was expected. But it also revealed DNA involved in burning fat, being physically active and having resistance to type-2 diabetes.

Family environments have long been considered a factor in anorexia but the study suggests this has been 
poorly understood.

“The families of people with anorexia do tend to have higher levels of perfectionism in them, but we think people are getting cause and effect wrong. It’s not the perfectionism that’s causing the anorexia, it’s the tendency towards having anorexia that is causing the increased perfectionism,” said Gerome Breen, a geneticist at King’s College London who co-led the study with US researchers at the University of North Carolina.

“What we think is happening is that the family environment and the genetics interact.”

This article was originally published in the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association publication, Lamp

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