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Breaking News in the Field of Eating Disorders Research

This week, researchers in the field of eating disorders announced ground-breaking results from a study that was a worldwide, collaborative effort amongst scientists, noted bloggers, advocates, clinicians, treatment centers, organizations, families, those who have suffered from anorexia nervosa, and more. The study, with results published in Nature Genetics on July 15, 2019, identified new risk factors related to the development of Anorexia Nervosa.

Nearly 17,000 people with anorexia nervosa and over 55,000 control subjects from nearly 20 countries, contributed to the study. Eight significant genes, specifically eight loci, related to anorexia nervosa were identified. As explained by BioNinja, “DNA is packaged and organized into discrete structures called chromosomes A gene is a sequence of DNA that encodes for a specific trait (traits may also be influenced by multiple genes) The position of a gene on a particular chromosome is called the locus (plural = loci).”

What Do The Results Mean?

Gerome Breen, a geneticist at King’s College London who co-led the study with researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was quoted in The Guardian, “[O]ur study means is we can no longer treat anorexia, and perhaps other eating disorders, as purely psychiatric or psychological…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.”

Cynthia Bulik, a long-time eating disorder activist, professor, and one of the study’s lead researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill 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.”

Columnist Gaby Hinsliff offered this wisdom in her article that discussed the research outcomes, “Just because a disease has a genetic component doesn’t mean that the environment in which the sufferer is steeped is suddenly irrelevant… genetics explains only about half of anorexia. It’s a piece of the jigsaw, not the whole of it. But the greater our understanding of the complicated interaction between genes and environment, the more likely we are to find that conditions once blamed on human weakness – the idea that sickness must be someone’s fault, or that they could get well if only they chose to snap out of it – have much more complicated pathologies.”

Personally, I find the outcomes of this incredible feat of research to be incredibly hope-filled, in great part because: knowledge is power. The more we spread the word about the knowledge we have that a person’s genetics, something we are born with, are partially responsible for the development of an eating disorder, the more power we have to dispel the long-held, and grave, misconception that people with eating disorders are to blame for their illness and that they are somehow choosing to suffer. This amazing research further supports the truth that: no one who has an eating disorder should ever be blamed for suffering an illness that is not a choice or lifestyle. Eating Disorders are serious and those suffering deserve help.

All of us at Kantor & Kantor offer our sincere gratitude to those who persevered to see this research project through to its fruition.

If you or someone you know has been denied treatment for an eating disorder, please contact Kantor & Kantor for a free consultation or complete our online contact form. We understand and we can help.

[If you are suffering with, or early on in your recovery from an eating disorder, we urge caution before you read articles about eating disorders, as some may contain generalized, or even irrelevant, information that may be harmful to your journey.]