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The Biological Basis of Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders seem to be due at least in part to genetic factors. About half of the risk of developing Anorexia Nervosa can be attributed to heritability [ref], and the same can be said for Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-Eating Disorder [ref]. Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa share similar genetic profiles, suggesting that they are indeed related conditions [ref, ref]. Although the identity of these genes remains unclear, it seems that at least some of them are the same genes that contribute to the risk of developing Depressive Disorders [ref, ref].

The reason why Eating Disorders seem to have a genetic link with Depression may be because, as with Depression, Eating Disorders are associated with reduced activity of the serotonin system of the brain [ref]. There are certain behavioral traits that have been linked with Eating Disorders [ref], such as Neuroticism in Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, and Impulsivity in Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-Eating Disorder, which are traits that have been linked with reduced functioning of the serotonin system [ref].

However, treating Eating Disorders with medications that increase serotonergic activity, such as the SSRIs, is usually not enough to resolve these conditions. There are other important psychological and social factors that contribute to the development of Eating Disorders.

 

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Social Factors

Psychological Factors