Can Anorexia Change Your DNA?

The longer a person has anorexia, the more likely their DNA will become negatively altered, according to new research.

Researchers at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute report that consequences of DNA changes can bring about gene expressions that affect emotional and psychological processes and behaviors.

“These findings help clarify the point that eating disorders are not about superficial body image concerns or the result of bad parenting,” said Dr. Howard Steiger, Chief of the Eating Disorders Program at the Douglas Institute and professor of Psychiatry at McGill University. “They represent real biological effects of environmental impacts in affected people, which then get locked in by too much dieting.”

Nervous system and psychological health

The study found that women with chronic anorexia nervosa were more likely to have alternations in genes associated with not only with anxiety or nervous system functions, but also with immunity and organ health.

Based on the findings of this study, researchers are now wondering if remission from anorexia could help “reset” DNA or if the effects are permanent.

“We already know that eating disorders, once established, have a tendency to become more and more entrenched over time,” Steiger said. “These findings point to physical mechanisms acting upon physiological and nervous system functions throughout the body that may underlie many of the effects of chronicity. All in all, they point to the importance of enabling people to get effective treatments as early in the disorder process as possible.”

The findings are published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Source: Science Daily
Image courtesy of tigger11th/

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