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In the Media | Why is Anorexia a ‘Metabo-Psychiatric’ Illness?

Written By: Kate Daniel
Published by: Giddy

Eating disorders are known as one of the United States’ most prevalent mental health conditions. But recent research suggests they may have both psychiatric and biological underpinnings, some of which are genetic.

In the first part of this story, we began discussing what has been uncovered following years of genetic studies. Now, we’ll get into why eating disorders are now considered “metabo-psychiatric” illnesses, and what that means for treatment and prevention.

Research into anorexia nervosa

“At this point, our most important finding is that anorexia nervosa appears to have both psychiatric and metabolic underpinnings,” said Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., founding director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. “We showed this by correlating the genetic profile of anorexia with hundreds of other traits.”

New thinking toward anorexia

As a result, many experts today think of eating disorders as “metabo-psychiatric illnesses,” which are biological and psychological in nature.

“This might explain, in part, why certain people with anorexia sometimes repeatedly return to an extremely low weight or experience co-occurring mental health conditions, such as OCD, anxiety and depression,” said Samantha DeCaro, Psy.D., a Philadelphia-based therapist and director of clinical outreach and education for The Renfrew Center. “There is a danger, however, in assuming all people with anorexia will have a genetic tendency to be lower weight.

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