Anorexia has long been defined as solely a psychological disorder. Medicinenet describes it as, “An eating disorder characterized by markedly reduced appetite or total aversion to food. Anorexia is a serious psychological disorder.” But a recent study conducted by
The study, that was six years long and involved researchers from over 100 institutions, examined over 16,000 cases of anorexia. Researchers looked at the genomes of patients to determine if there was a link among them. What they found were eight specific genetic variants that can be associated with anorexia. Beyond that, researchers also found a link between metabolic function and anorexia. This means the metabolisms of patients who suffer from anorexia are often different than those that don’t have the disease.
Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D. Founding Director, UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders led the groundbreaking study. Bulik is hopeful this new information will lead to a better understanding of the disease that has long had a negative stigma, “Anorexia nervosa has been misunderstood for decades and that misunderstanding has done a gross disservice to patients and families.” She went on to tell Parentology, “Anorexia nervosa is clearly not just a socio-cultural phenomenon or a choice, it’s a genetically influenced disorder with both psychiatric and metabolic components.”
There’s also great hope this new information will lead to better and more effective treatments. Often, people who suffer from anorexia face a life-long battle. Bulik’s research suggests that those “relapses” may be caused by the underlying dysfunction in their metabolisms. “We so often see them lose weight precipitously and enter a revolving cycle of hospitalization and relapse,” Bulik says. “We need to ensure they’re adequately weight-restored and their metabolisms are given the opportunity to reequilibrate.”
The hope is that further expanded research will offer greater insight and possibly additional treatment options, which Bulik stresses as significant progress. “Because, today, we have no medications that are effective in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.”
Bulik’s research is the first to illustrate the true complexity of anorexia-nervosa. Proving that there are psychological, genetic and metabolic components. “This underscores that we need to talk about both psychiatric and metabolic factors when we thinking about the causes of and treatments for this illness,” Bulik says. She hopes future studies will reveal more specific data that will lead to better diagnoses and treatment. In the meantime, this study gives hope to the millions of people who suffer with this disease.