Genetic Link Between Anorexia and Psychiatric, Metabolic Disorders?

Anorexia Study
Print icon

For the first time, researchers have found a possible genetic link between anorexia nervosa and not only psychiatric but also metabolic disorders that may contribute to the disorder’s development.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a distorted perception of body size, severe restriction of food intake and dangerously low weight. Australian researchers examined the DNA of 17,000 people with anorexia nervosa – the largest genome-wide study of anorexia to date – and found eight genetic markers that shed light into its origins..

“This study confirmed that anorexia is linked to psychiatric disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety, but further suggested that metabolic variables like weight, cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, and even physical activity, may play a role in the development of the disorder,” said Dr. Mirjana Domakonda, a psychiatrist with the Hartford HealthCare Institute of Living in Hartford.

To date, experts believed that the metabolic abnormalities seen with anorexia were due to the starvation and malnutrition that accompany severe weight loss.

But, she noted, “These findings actually suggest that people with anorexia may have a predisposition to these metabolic disturbances that actually makes it harder for them to gain weight once they lose it, or makes them more susceptible to developing anorexia. Anorexia is certainly a psychological disorder, but we may need to pay more attention to these metabolic factors if we hope to develop successful treatments.”

There are currently no Food and Drug Administration-approved medications to treat anorexia, which Dr. Domakonda called “disheartening, as nearly 10 percent of patients with anorexia, if untreated, will die due to complications associated with the disorder.”

She said anyone who suspects a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder should seek immediate help. Treatment, she said, includes:

  1. Ensuring patients are medically stable to prevent or stop damage to their heart or ward off other potentially deadly hormonal abnormalities.
  2. A slow but steady process of “refeeding” to get back to a healthy weight. This, Dr. Domakonda said, can take a long time but qualified centers provide a supportive environment that combines eating with therapeutic support.
  3. Ongoing therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy and family-based treatment.

“Psychiatric medications to treat comorbidities such as anxiety and depression that contribute to patients’ worsening health can also be helpful in preventing relapse,” she said.

For more information on services available at the Institute of Living, click here.

What's New


TryCycle, a Mobile Tool, Gives Added Connection in Recovery

It’s easy enough to talk about the urge to use opioids when you’re seated across from your counselor in a regular appointment. It’s the reason you’re there. But office visits are typically not when the temptation of opioid use disorder (OUD) is most challenging. That itch comes later, when you’re...

Suicide Prevention

New study: Will Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help Prevent Suicide?

Hospitals provide a safe, if temporary, haven for people who have attempted suicide. Once they are released, however, the risk they will try to kill themselves again remains quite high. A newly-funded study at the Institute of Living in Hartford, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network, will investigate...

Screen Time

Natchaug Psychiatrist: Screen Time Boosts Mental Health Problems in Youth

In a recent Detroit News article entitled “Cellphone suspensions: Schools lock away digital distractions, Dr. Paul Weigle, associate medical director of ambulatory services at Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield, was quoted as relating increased screen use to mental health problems in youths. Dr. Weigle was speaking as a board member of Children...

Suicide Prevention

Suicide Prevention: When People Offering Help Actually Need It

Two recent high-profile suicide deaths of men who worked with those at-risk for suicide highlights the increased suicide rate for those who provide services and care. The importance or raising awareness in September, National Suicide Prevention Month, is highlighted by the deaths of Gregory Eells, the executive director of counseling...

How to Prevent a Suicide? Ask the ‘Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge’

As a California Highway Patrol Officer, Sgt. Kevin Briggs worked on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, often with suicidal people, but his own struggles with depression made his presentation Sept. 13 even more impactful at the seventh annual World Suicide Prevention Conference at Heublein Hall at Hartford Hospital....

A panel discussion at the World Suicide Prevention Day

Panel: Suicide Prevention Starts with Empathy, Building Connections

As part of the seventh Annual World Suicide Prevention Day Conference Sept. 13, Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network hosted a panel presentation about the role of healthcare providers in suicide prevention. The panel included Behavioral Health Network Physician-in-Chief John Santopietro; Sgt. Kevin Briggs, a retired California Highway Patrol officer and national speaker;...

Kelly Posner

Suicide Questionnaire Could Be the Next ‘Miracle Drug’

Major breakthroughs have been made for many health issues – genetic testing for cancer, antibiotics for infections, new procedures for heart disease. But what about suicide, which is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States? The answer is simple — ask the right questions, according to Kelly Posner,...