Are Eating Disorders Genetic?

What are the causes of an eating disorder or Why did this happen? These questions are commonly asked, as it can be helpful to understand why someone may be suffering and whether this is something that can be prevented.

Determining the cause of eating disorders can often be complex. For some time, the causes of eating disorders were not fully understood. However, recent research has begun to shed more light on the causes of eating disorders revealing there are often specific factors such as genes and environment that can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.

It has been established that genetics do play a role in developing an eating disorder.

Eating disorders do run in families. Specifically, individuals who have a family member with anorexia nervosa are up to 11 times more likely to develop an eating disorder themselves. Additionally, 40-60% of the risk of developing an eating disorder is due to genetic factors.

Here are some highlights about genetics and eating disorders:

  • No one knows for certain precisely which genes are linked into the development.
  • In some individuals with eating disorders, certain identified chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion have been found to be unbalanced.
  • Family, twin, and adoption studies have shown evidence that genetic factors contribute to a predisposition for eating disorders. Those that are born with specific genotypes are at a heightened risk for the development of an eating disorder.
  • Some genes identified in the contribution to eating disorders have been shown to be associated with specific personality traits such as obsessive thinking, perfectionism, high levels of sensitivity, and rigidity.
  • Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and/or addiction can also run and families and can increase the risk someone may develop an eating disorder.

However, genetics alone don’t cause an eating disorder. Eating disorders are caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. And although having a family history of an eating disorder may place you at an increased risk, it does not mean that just because someone in your family has an eating disorder you will also develop one.