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Genetics and the Causes of Eating Disorders

written by: ScientificAge • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 7/20/2010

Studies of eating habits have indicated that human genetics and our biology may play significant roles in the development of eating disorders. Genetic studies may explain how eating disorders arise in some individuals and not in others.

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    Research

    Research is continuously suggesting that genetics plays a critical function in disorders concerning eating. It is optimistic news for the future of prevention. Lifestyle may be improved to recognize vulnerability. Measures may also be undertaken to effectively prevent eating disorders, before they commence. Future research may even lead to the possibility of an effective medical treatment. Also, knowing that there is a considerable genetic influence behind the cause of eating disorders can bring relief to parents, who might otherwise feel guilt; erroneously assuming that their actions and behavior might have been to blame.

    10-year International Study Of Anorexia-‘Genetics of Anorexia Nervosa Collaboration’

    While family conditions and the influence of community have long been considered as contributing reasons for anorexia nervosa, there is evidence to suggest that this eating disorder is also linked to genetic factors. A 10-year international study of anorexia, known as the ‘Genetics of Anorexia Nervosa Collaboration’, and sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, was carried out in eight North American and two European cities. Psychological information was collected along with blood samples. According to this research, it has been concluded that a person is 12 times more likely to acquire anorexia, if he/she has a family member who had this disease. Thus, it was established that genetic reasons have an important effect on eating disorders.

    10-year National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Growth and Health Study

    Epidemiological studies carried out in the United States concerning eating disorders, focused on white girls and women. This study analyzed the occurrence of bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders in an economically and geographically varied sample of young black and white women who previously participated in the 10-year National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Growth and Health Study. It was concluded that eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are more frequent among white women than among black women.

    Having established a genetic link, the next stage will be to find out what those genes are, and how they increase an individual's risk of contracting an eating disorder.

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    Other Causes of Eating Disorders

    Negative effects within the family play a major role in creating eating disorders.

    Insecure Infancy

    Some professionals believe that parents, who fail to present a safe and secure foundation for their children, may promote eating disorders. In such cases, children experience insecure attachments. It is more likely that they will have greater weight apprehensions and less confidence, than those with dependable connections.

    Family History of Emotional or Addiction Disorders

    When compared with the general population, there is a higher percentage of individuals with eating disorders who have parents with alcoholism or other substance abuse.

    Family History of Obesity

    Obese parents are more likely to have children with eating disorders.

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    Genetic Vulnerability

    Genetic vulnerability to eating disorders may cause a person to experience the impact of a risk feature more strongly. These factors include the influence of media, inappropriate body image ideals promoted by different web sites, the effects of trauma, dieting, and others. But the link between genetics and surroundings is multifaceted and complicated.

    A person who is only slightly liable to acquire an eating disorder would need a major activation to develop one. Another person may be highly inclined genetically, and develop an eating disorder after a comparatively slight trigger. It is also important to understand that no level of genetic susceptibility is a guarantee that an eating disorder will occur or not.