Eating disorders are a serious problem in our society. They are characterized by an obsession with food and weight. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are all types of eating disorders that can have devastating effects on a person’s physical and mental health. It is estimated that eating disorders affect 30 million people in the United States alone.
Despite their prevalence, there is still a lot we do not understand about eating disorders. One of the most common questions people ask is whether or not an eating disorder is genetic. In other words, can you be born with an eating disorder? Let’s take a look at the latest research on this topic to see what the experts have to say.
The Genetics of Eating Disorders
Twin studies suggest that genes may play a role in the development of eating disorders and eating disorder treatment. In one study of identical twins, if one twin had anorexia nervosa, the other twin had a 50% chance of also having anorexia nervosa. This suggests that there may be something in our DNA that makes us more susceptible to developing this disorder.
However, it is important to keep in mind that genes are not the only factor that contributes to the development of eating disorders. It is thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors plays a role. For example, someone may be more likely to develop an eating disorder if they have a family history of the disorder AND they are exposed to triggering environments such as negative body image messages from the media.
Genetic Variants and Eating Disorders
Eating disorders have also been linked to specific genetic variants. For example, research has found that people with anorexia nervosa are more likely to carry a variant of the gene EPHX2 than people without anorexia nervosa. This gene plays a role in taste and smell, which may help explain why people with anorexia nervosa often have a distorted view of food and body weight.
Other genetic variants that have been linked to an eating disorder include those responsible for regulating stress hormones (such as cortisol) and those involved in neurotransmitter function (such as serotonin). These findings suggest that imbalances in certain brain chemicals may play a role in the development of an eating disorder. However, it is important to remember that these genetic associations are not predictive; that is, having these genetic variants does not mean that someone will definitely develop an eating disorder.
Rather, these variants may predispose someone to develop an eating disorder under certain environmental conditions (e.g., exposure to triggering factors such as weight-loss messages or a history of dieting).
Treatment for Eating Disorders
While we do not yet fully understand the causes of eating disorders, the latest research suggests that genetics may play a role. However, it is important to keep in mind that genes are not the only factor that contributes to the development of these disorders.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please seek professional help. There is no shame in admitting that you need help and there are many resources available to those who need it.