The Triggers of Anorexia
It’s more than just a diet gone too far.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder, causing people to be obsessive about weight and what they eat. It is presently incurable. It has a mortality rate of 8% to 15% -- which is the highest of any psychiatric disease. Two of the best known fatalities from the condition are pop singer Karen Carpenter and gymnast Christy Henrich.
Now a study that Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) conducted on mice has concluded that a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors can trigger eating disorders in humans.
Social stresses like isolation and dieting as a result of peer pressure (that is, the crushing urge to be thin) could trigger anorexia in adolescents. When a natural desire to be healthy and attractive goes wrong, it circumvents both of those goals.
This study found that when adolescent mice with the gene variant associated with anorexia and anxiety (in both mice and humans) were exposed to the stress of social isolation and caloric restriction, they were much more likely to avoid eating. These changes in eating behavior didn’t occur when the same variables were imposed during adulthood.
People with anorexia view themselves as being overweight, even when they are extremely underweight. They are relentlessly obsessed with eating, food and weight control. The hope is that this new information regarding genes and environmental forces can lead to prevention and treatment strategies that will ultimately save lives.