Eating disorders, such as anorexia, affect at least 30 million people in the U.S. Anorexia nervosa has one of the highest mortality rates across all mental illnesses, and is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents. Currently, no medication exists that is effective in treating this disorder. Causes of anorexia have been thought to be primarily external, such as sociocultural ideals of appearance and past trauma.

This past month, scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Karolinska Institue in Sweden presented findings from a large scale effort to examine the genetics associated with anorexia. Over six years, these scientists studied the genomes of approximately 17,000 anorexia patients and 55,000 controls. They identified eight genetic variants that were more common in patients compared to controls. Interestingly, some of these genetic variants were associated with metabolic composition, such as glycemic traits (e.g. fasting insulin and HDL cholesterol levels). This provides some of the first strong evidence that the causes of anorexia are not only psychological, but also genetic.

Although only correlational, these findings provide a strong motivation for further investigation of the genetic causes of anorexia – specifically, metabolic factors. This genetic data will be essential for the development of new treatments and medications for patients with anorexia  – targeting not just the mental aspect, but also the physiological cause. Alongside this, it will also be important to include patients of various ethnicities, who may be subject to different social contexts and gene pools.

Managing Correspondent: Jeremy Gungabeesoon

News Article: Anorexia May Be Linked to Metabolism, a Genetic Analysis Suggests . Scientific American

Original Article: Genome-wide association study identifies eight risk loci and implicates metabo-psychiatric origins for anorexia nervosa. Nature Genetics

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