The Genetics of Eating Disorders

A recent study identified two different gene clusters believed to be responsible for the development of eating disorders. While previous studies have found that eating disorders are 50 to 80 percent genetic, the current study aimed to better understand which genes are damaged in individuals with eating disorders. When armed with this information, practitioners will be better equipped to create treatment protocols and interventions.

Evaluation of How Genetics Impact Eating Disorders

The study evaluated the genomes of 95 individuals diagnosed with eating disorders. The study found that individuals with eating disorders could be ‘clustered’ into two main groups. In group one, damaged genes fell into a class of gut neuropeptides that control appetite, food intake, and digestion/absorption of nutrients.  This gene cluster makes patients more likely to binge. The second group possessed damaged genes involved in the function of the immune system and inflammation, functions that have long been known to suppress appetite. Individuals in this second cluster were more likely to demonstrate restrictive eating behaviors.

We are hopeful that the findings from the study will help combat misconceptions about the root causes of eating disorders. Despite statistics that suggest nearly 30 million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder in their lifetime, there is still a widespread belief that individuals with these conditions are attention-seeking or lacking in willpower.

Destigmatization of Eating Disorders

We are hopeful that this groundbreaking study will contribute to the destigmatization of these diseases and empower more individuals to seek quality treatment. Scientific American states, “Failure to understand the underlying causes of eating disorders creates stigma, making it less likely for those who struggle to get treatment. People with any medical condition deserve support and access to the best treatment. Someone with cancer wouldn’t be denied treatment for his or her illness. Likewise, patients with eating disorders shouldn’t feel guilty about their illness and they should have access to safe, effective treatment.”

It is believed that an individual’s experience with treatment will be most effective if there is a solid understanding that their experiences and behaviors are based on genetics. For more information about eating disorder treatment at Columbus Park Eating Disorder Clinic in New York City, click here.