Anorexia Isn't Exactly What We Thought

It isn't all in people's heads, according to a new study
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 17, 2019 7:00 PM CDT
Anorexia's Not All in Your Head
Stock image.   (Getty Images)

Turns out anorexia isn't all mental—a possible relief to people who've been blamed for having a devastating illness, the Guardian reports. In a new study, researchers analyzed the DNA of 17,000 people with anorexia against 55,000 without, and flagged eight genes connecting anorexia with psychological conditions like OCD, depression, and anxiety. But they also spotted DNA associated with fat-burning and physical activity, which could explain why some sufferers eat normally and burn excessive calories at the gym. "Anorexia has the expected correlations with anxiety, depression and OCD, but it also has this set of apparently healthy metabolic correlations that we don’t see in any other psychiatric disorder," says co-study leader Gerome Breen.

Then it gets complicated, because the study links anorexia to metabolic traits involving body-mass index, but the genes linking them aren't the usual suspects—which suggests there's more genetic activity to be uncovered, The Age reports. Now researchers are calling on people with anorexia to partake in another study that could inspire new treatments and help reverse a culture of blame. For sufferers like Sarah Lady, who grew up with an angry mother wanting her to eat, it's as emotional as physical. "For the first five years she thought I was attention seeking," Lady says. "If she could have known that there was a genetic predisposition there, her attitude would have been so different, I'm sure." (In a heartbreaking story, a teen rape survivor with anorexia ended her life by euthanasia.)

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