Are Eating Disorders Genetic?

What constitutes an eating disorder? Are eating disorders genetic? Continue reading to find out.

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Eating Disorders: An Overview

Eating disorders are a common problem only exacerbated in the era of social media. Many people wonder why these disorders develop. A common question that gets asked is, “are eating disorders genetic?”

Eating disorders have long been perceived as behavioral choices. Like other mental health struggles, eating disorders are often shamed. Sufferers deal with anxiety, depression, loneliness, isolation, and PTSD. Eating disorders cause distress to those living with them. They cause relationship and career problems. They also lead to health problems, including gastrointestinal issues, heart complications, cognitive impairment, and osteoporosis. Eating disorders can also hinder development and growth in young people. Severe cases of eating disorders can be fatal. This is why getting proper treatment is vital.

Eating Disorders Genetic

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Are Eating Disorders Genetic? What’s the Link?

Many people with eating disorders avoid seeking treatment. They fear judgment from others and continue to suffer alone in silence due to the associated stigma. But new research shows an eating disorders genetic link that can offer relief to sufferers of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder.

Types of Eating Disorders Explained

Eating disorders are considered the most lethal of neuropsychiatric disorders. They affect millions of people in the United States. Those suffering from eating disorders have an unhealthy relationship with food. They also struggle with a skewed body image. The three main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight. This leads to restrictive eating habits, distorted body image, and extreme weight loss. Some people with anorexia may engage in excessive amounts of exercise, laxative use, and purging behaviors.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating. These episodes are then followed by self-induced vomiting, laxative use, or excessive exercise. People with bulimia often have a distorted body image and an overpowering fear of gaining weight.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating without compensatory behaviors (vomiting, laxative use, etc.). Those suffering from binge eating disorder often experience feelings of lack of control, guilt, or shame about their eating behaviors. They may also eat when not even hungry.

Eating Disorders Genetic Link: What Does Research Say?

The first time eating disorders’ genetic roots were discovered was in a groundbreaking study from 2003. Researchers found three candidate genes that were unusual in people with anorexia. These involved anxiety, depression, and appetite. This study has been continually built upon over time. It furthers the understanding of how eating disorders and genetics work.1

Anorexia Research

According to a 2019 study published in Nature Genetics, eight genes with different links to anorexia nervosa have been identified. Researchers examined DNA from nearly 17,000 cases of anorexia nervosa from across the globe, comparing them to genetic material from around 55,500 controls.2
Professor Nicholas Martin, co-author of the study and AIMR Berghofer Senior Scientist Professor, said this is a huge step in further understanding the disorder. According to Martin, this is one of the first clues we have as to what the genetic processes are behind anorexia nervosa.

A Familial Link

Genetic studies have suggested that individuals with anorexia nervosa share a set of genetic abnormalities. This implies that anorexia can run in families. People who are born into a family affected by anorexia are eleven times more likely to develop the condition than those who are not born into families touched by the disorder.3

Chromosomal Abnormalities

Psychiatrist Walter Kaye of the University of Pittsburgh and his colleagues also found a variation on chromosome 1 that was common with anorexia. The region on chromosome 1 contains between 100 and 300 genes. They found three gene candidates that are involved in neural signaling for appetite, depression, and anxiety. They compared gene sequences in anorexic people versus healthy people. They found that women with anorexia had particular sequence variations on two of the three genes.

Finding these two genes gives researchers more information on which DNA variations are associated with the most risk. Researchers are working to determine how these genetic abnormalities play into the disease, potentially using them for therapies in the future.  

Are There Other Eating Disorders Genetic Links?

Although there are fewer genetic studies involving people with binge eating disorders and bulimia, some studies provide hope.

A shared genetic risk factor in people with binge eating disorder has been found in one 2016 study through the Boston University School of Medicine. Researchers found cytoplasmic FMR1-interacting protein 2 (CYFIP2) to be a major genetic risk factor for binge eating, along with decreased myelination (a process in which the speed of signals transmitted between neurons) being a possible consequence of binge eating. Studies like this suggest that genetic factors can contribute to the development of binge eating disorders. However, more work needs to be done to make the binge eating disorders genetic link clearer.4

EDGI and the Eating Disorders Genetic Link

An international study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health called the Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI) aims to identify more genes that influence a person’s risk of developing eating disorders. This is the largest genetic research study ever.

It follows groundbreaking advances of previous studies, including another collaborative study called the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI). This study offers further hope in reducing the stigma of eating disorders. It also works to provide more answers to the eating disorders genetic link.
Eating Disorders Genetic

Getting Treatment for Eating Disorders at Alternative Options

Although we are close to finding answers about the eating disorders genetic link, if you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, it is important to seek help right away for the best chances of a successful recovery.

Our caring and compassionate team at Alternative Options is here to provide you with structured treatment in a comfortable and therapeutic environment. We also offer support for loved ones and family members. We will work with you to create a treatment plan tailored to your needs. We will work to ensure you achieve long-term recovery.

Contact Alternative Options Today

It is important to consider the question “are eating disorders genetic?” on your plight to healing and wellness. Understanding the root of the issue can help identify the proper treatment modalities.

Trying to recover from an eating disorder on your own can be scary and difficult. The good news is you don’t have to do this alone. Our compassionate and highly skilled staff at Alternative Options is here for you every step of the way. Your wellness is our top priority. Reach out to us today for more information about our available treatment options.