Two Genetic Mutations Connected to Eating Disorders

Because of the many complex factors involved in eating disorders, there can be much confusion and uncertainty when it comes to understanding these diseases.  Scientists and health professionals continue to seek out the various pieces of the puzzle that is an eating disorder, finding and discovering more about these complicated mental health issues.  If you or a loved one has suffered with an eating disorder, you can likely attest to the difficulty in facing such a challenging disease.  It is not something that comes and goes, like a cold, or an issue that you can merely “get over”.  Because eating disorders involve a variety of factors, such as biological, social, psychological, environmental, etc, there is no easy solution to recovery.

Having greater understanding of these various factors involved in eating disorders can certainly help improve awareness and effectiveness of treatment methods.  Some factors are much more easily understood than others.  For example, the connection between the influences of social media on body image is understandable.  Other aspects of eating disorder progression are much more complex, such as the biological factors involved.  However, this is quickly changing as researchers continue to delve in this arena.

Recently, scientists uncovered two gene mutations that they believe are connected with an increased risk of eating disorders.  While genetic factors have been a known part in the development of eating disorders, researchers have been unable to identify specific pathways or genes that can put people at higher risk.  In this recent study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, scientists analyzed the DNA of individuals from two families extensively affected by eating disorders.  In one family, researchers investigated 20 people over three generations, 10 of whom had an eating disorder.  The second family analyzed included six people with an eating disorder and two without over four generations.  Many aspects pointed to genetic issues in these families, such as the large percentage of affected individuals and the younger age at which the disorder developed.   From their research in these families, scientists were able to find two rare genetic mutations (one in each family) that were linked to the family members that had eating disorders [1].

While researchers continue to acknowledge that further work is needed in this area, these findings are significant to the future of eating disorder treatment.  Research findings such as these also help in validating the need for effective and comprehensive treatment for eating disorders.  Recovery from an eating disorder is something that should be approached in a way that addresses each of the pieces involved, biological and environmental factors alike.  Those who are suffering with eating disorders truly need help and support to overcome these illnesses and experience the recovery they deserve.

[1]: Cui et al. “Eating disorder predisposition is associated with ESRRA and HDAC4 mutations” Journal of Clinical Investigation, October 2013.


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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website.