Blame genes for eating disorders

Washington, June 5 (IANS) In a groundbreaking study, scientists have stumbled on a possible biological culprit in the development of eating disorders during puberty: a type of estrogen called estradiol.

The study, led by the Michigan State University (MSU), found that influence of one’s genes on eating disorder symptoms was much greater in pubertal girls with higher levels of estradiol than those with lower levels of the same.

Lead investigator Kelly Klump, MSU associate professor of psychology, said previous research had established that eating disorders are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors once a girl hits puberty.

The underlying effects of the genes, however, were unknown.

‘The reason we see an increase in genetic influences during puberty is that the genes for disordered eating are essentially getting switched on during that time,’ said Klump.

‘This research was trying to figure out what turns on the genes during puberty? And what we found is that increases in estradiol apparently are activating genetic risk for eating disorders,’ Klump added.

Estradiol is the predominant form of estrogen in females and is responsible for the growth of reproductive organs and also influences other organs including bones.

Klump noted that researchers don’t yet know which genes are being switched on by estradiol. Further, she said a larger study is needed to confirm the results of the MSU-led research.

The study examined the estradiol levels of nearly 200 sets of female twins, aged 10-15, from the MSU Twin Registry, which includes more than 5,000 pairs of twins in Michigan. Klump runs the registry with S. Alexandra Burt, assistant professor of psychology.

Other co-authors of the study were Burt, Cheryl Sisk at MSU and Pamela Keel at Florida State University.

These findings were published in Psychological Medicine.