Research — 28 April 2016

Disturbing findings reveal many people battling anorexia are not under the care of a doctor or medical practitioner.

Just 32 per cent of people with anorexia are regularly seeing a doctor, according to the interim findings of the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane.

Professor Nick Martin, from QIMR, said the results showed how important it was for parents to watch for the warning signs of anorexia, such as the avoidance of eating with the family.

“One of the clinical features of this illness is denial, people denying that anything is wrong with them,” he said.

“So we were concerned by the finding that so few of the participants were under medical care.”

The study aimed to identify genes which predispose people to anorexia nervosa.

“We know there is a strong genetic component and new molecular technologies give us the hope of finding those genes and provide much better treatment in the future,” Professor Martin said.

Study hopes to unlock genes of anorexia

The Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI) is the world’s largest genetic investigation of anorexia nervosa.

Researchers hope to detect genetic variations that may be implicated in the illness.

“The reason we are looking at this is because of the spectacular success of finding the gene regions for schizophrenia,” Professor Martin said.

“We hope to do the same for anorexia so we can develop specific treatments for the illness.”

So far, scientists have found 60 per cent of those with anorexia also report having binge eating disorder — a very common eating disorder.

Large numbers of people in the study were using laxatives, diuretics, and restricting their eating to control their weight.

Study centres are located at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Denmark, Sweden and the United States.

Scientists hope to recruit more than 13,000 around the world. So far, 2,443 Australians have taken part.

Patients give a blood and DNA sample so scientists can examine it for genetic patterns.

“Identifying genes associated with anorexia nervosa will help experts to better identify those who may be more vulnerable to the illness,” Dr Martin said.

This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 27 April 2016.

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