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Can Eating Disorders be Genetic?

Updated at: Jul 23, 2018
Mental Health
Written by: Arshad Said KhanPublished at: Jan 11, 2018
Can Eating Disorders be Genetic?

Eating disorders were earlier considered only behavioural problems but later research suggests that there may be biological, environmental and psychological factors behind it. Read on to find if gentics are a probable cause of eating disorder?

For a long time eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Compulsive Eating Disorder had been considered purely behavioural problems. A compound approach in treatment is now taking into consideration biological, environmental as well as psychological issues.

Simply Genetics?

Genetics in particular can play an important role in triggering a condition. The concept of genetic predisposition has been used in determining the reasons behind eating disorders. Inheritance through Chromosome 1 and 10 has been observed in certain scientific studies. In other studies the arrow points towards bio-chemicals like Serotonin. As a neurotransmitter hormone it affects behaviour at a broad level. Directly regulating responses and drives such as hunger and sleep. High levels of Serotonin result in heightened anxiety while low levels lead to depression. In the first case the patient will bend towards Anorexia or Bulimia to rid the body of the extra hormonal flow.

In the second case the patient will try to compensate for low levels by consuming and therefore produce more Serotonin in the body. Dopamine and Norephinephrine are other neurotransmitters believed to decide food consumption. Conversely, Serotonin need not be a deciding factor in eating disorders as environmental and psycho-social factors too play decisive agents. Besides, even if genes cannot be blamed the obstetric history of the patient may throw light on the problem. Maternal under nourishment, smoking or natal complications can cause irreparable damage that may manifest in eating disorders later in life.

The Bigger Picture

Most eating disorders are associated immediately with Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Those who suffer from diminished ideas of the body tend to search for recourse in extreme food habits. Other psychological explanations range from Clinical Depression to Narcissism. In environmental concerns child abuse and isolation are on the top of the list. Food relates to coping strategies in post traumatic stress that haunts the adult. Loss of control or calmness is instantly resolved by the patient by either over eating; binging and purging; or starving. Isolation has been seen as a statistical category.

Those who are socially less successful have been noted to rely on food as means of self validation or control. Other popular factors are media interventions that constantly bombard us with images of the perfect body. This creates an anxiety over an unachievable ideal. Not only those in athletic and performance industries are affected. It is mostly Everyman and Everywoman next door who feels forced to adhere to a body type. Often unsuccessfully. Add to this pressure from the society that rewards conformity to certain standards of beauty and physical attractiveness.

In order to achieve at a winning blueprint to cure eating disorders, the therapist will not only need genetic information and DNA maps of the patient but also childhood history and social position as a individual. On the other hand a cognitive approach need make itself organic biologically as well as psychologically. 

Read more articles on Eating Disorders.


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