Researchers discover potential genetic factor in eating disorders

June 4, 2010

For the first time, scientists have discovered a possible biological culprit in the development of eating disorders during puberty: a type of estrogen called estradiol.

The groundbreaking pilot study led by Michigan State University found that influence of one's on symptoms was much greater in pubertal girls with higher levels of estradiol than pubertal girls with lower levels of estradiol. The study appears in the journal .

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 are essentially getting switched on during that time," said Klump. "This research was trying to figure out why. What's turning on the genes during ? And what we found is that increases in estradiol apparently are activating for eating disorders."

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.

But knowing that estradiol likely plays a role in the development of eating disorders could ultimately open the window to new treatments, said Klump, past president of the Academy of Eating Disorders.

In addition, she said, prevention efforts could be geared toward those girls who not only are in high-risk environmental contexts (such as weight-focused sports), but also those with genetic risks such as a family history of eating disorders.

The study examined the estradiol levels of nearly 200 sets of female twins, ages 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.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Elderly may face increased dementia risk after a disaster

October 24, 2016

Elderly people who were uprooted from damaged or destroyed homes and who lost touch with their neighbors after the 2011 tsunami in Japan were more likely to experience increased symptoms of dementia than those who were able ...

Research examines role of early-life stress in adult illness

October 24, 2016

Scientists have long known that chronic exposure to psychosocial stress early in life can lead to an increased vulnerability later in life to diseases linked to immune dysfunction and chronic inflammation, including arthritis, ...

Plan ahead for successful aging, researcher says

October 20, 2016

For many people, the prospect of aging is scary and uncomfortable, but Florida State University Assistant Professor Dawn Carr says that research reveals a few tips that can improve our chances of a long, healthy life.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.