Science vs stigma

NEW research suggesting anorexia nervosa could be genetic will help overcome stigma about the illness, former sufferer Shannon Calvert says.

The Perth local says there is a perception that people with the condition are choosing not to eat, but the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute has identified eight genes linked to anorexia nervosa.

“[The research findings] brings reassurance that my eating disorder was not a choice which had brought years of endless stigma,” Ms Calvert says.

“Many people in the community think an eating disorder is based around social media, that a person only fears being in a larger body.

“It confirms that this is a metabolic-psychiatric illness and it was not my responsibility to just snap out of it nor was it my fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. This supports healing and recovery.”

The research shows that certain genes are linked to psychiatric aspects of the disease and metabolic function, and may explain why anorexia nervosa patients struggle to maintain a healthy weight, even after treatment.

The disorder is characterised by restricted energy intake, intense fear of gaining weight and disturbed body image.

It’s hoped the findings will lead to improvements in the way people suffering from anorexia nervosa are treated.

A spokesperson from Eating Disorder Families Australia says that “as the knowledge of the genetics increases, families in the future will be able to have a genetic test done and see if those risks exist in their children and then be more vigilant about ensuring weight loss doesn’t occur. If symptoms of the eating disorder do occur, they will then be able to intervene early”.

The Institute’s research into anorexia nervosa was conducted over six years and involved the study of 17,000 anorexia nervosa cases around the world.

The Institute is currently recruiting more patients for an expanded study.

Out of all the mental illnesses, eating disorders is the biggest killer in Australia with five people dying every day.

by ALEX MURFETT

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