UNC Study Finds That Anorexia Is Both Metabolic And Psychiatric

UNC Study Finds That Anorexia Is Both Metabolic And Psychiatric

3:01pm Aug 05, 2019

New research is changing the way we understand anorexia nervosa — a disorder characterized by dangerously low body weight, an intense fear of gaining body weight, and a lack of recognition of the seriousness of the low body weight. The findings come out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and involved researchers and participants from around the world.

Scientists conducted what’s called a genome-wide association study and compared genetic markers from thousands of individuals with anorexia nervosa to tens of thousands without.

They identified eight regions of the genome associated with a higher risk for anorexia.

Dr. Zeynep Yilmaz was one of the investigators. She says researchers also discovered genetic correlations between anorexia and metabolic traits such as low body weight, and lower levels of blood sugar and LDL, or bad cholesterol.

Dr. Zeynep Yilmaz is an associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and an investigator on the anorexia nervosa study. Image courtesy: Zeynep Yilmaz

Yilmaz says while environment is important, anorexia is not a purely social or cultural phenomenon. She says there is still a major stigma associated with anorexia and one of the biggest takeaways from this research is that patients and families are not to blame.

“In reality, we know that no one chooses to have anorexia nervosa just like nobody chooses to have schizophrenia," she says. "And it is a devastating illness that has a clear psychological and biological basis. And it causes significant suffering to the patients and their family as well.”

Anorexia nervosa is the most deadly psychiatric disorder and affects both men and women. Scientists hope the findings will help provide better treatment in the future.  

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