Published On: Tue, Jul 16th, 2019

Anorexia is partly metabolic disorder, and not purely psychiatric

Anorexia Nervosa is also a metabolic disorder, not only psychiatric as previously thought, according to research published in Nature Genetics.

A global study, by over 100 academics worldwide analyzed data from 17 countries across North America, Europe, and Australasia. And 16,992 people suffer from Anorexia plus 55,525 people as controls.

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious and potentially life-threatening illness. Symptoms can include dangerously low body weight, an intense fear of weight gaining, and a distorted body image.

The team identifies eight genetic variants linked to Anorexia Nervosa and suggest that the genetic origins of the disorder are both metabolic and psychiatric.

The genetic basis of anorexia overlaps with other psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

Genetic factors associated with anorexia also influence physical activity, which could explain the tendency for people with anorexia nervosa to be highly active.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. It affects 1-2% of women and 0.2-0.4% of men.

The study led by researchers at King’s College London and the University of North Carolina.

Dr Gerome Breen, who co-led the study, commented: “Metabolic abnormalities seen in patients with anorexia nervosa are most often attributed to starvation, but our study shows metabolic differences may also contribute to the development of the disorder. Furthermore, our analyses indicate that the metabolic factors may play nearly or just as strong a role as purely psychiatric effects.”

Professor Janet Treasure said: “Over time there has been uncertainty about the framing of anorexia nervosa because of the mixture of physical and psychiatric features. Our results confirm this duality and suggest that integrating metabolic information may help clinicians to develop better ways to treat eating disorders.”

Professor Cynthia Bulik, from the University of North Carolina, said: “Our findings strongly encourage us to shine the torch on the role of metabolism to help understand why some individuals with anorexia nervosa drop back to dangerously low weights, even after hospital-based refeeding.”

The study concludes that anorexia nervosa may need to be thought that it will be important to consider both metabolic and psychological risks factors when exploring new avenues for treating this potentially lethal illness.

Andrew Radford, Chief Executive of Beat, the eating disorder charity, said: “This is ground-breaking research that significantly increases our understanding of the genetic origins of this serious illness. We strongly encourage researchers to examine the results of this study and consider how it can contribute to the development of new treatments so we can end the pain and suffering of eating disorders.”

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