Women contract full or partial anorexia nervosa more than nine times more frequently when a man in the family has the eating disorder, a new UCLA study shows.
The study, published in the April edition of the International Journal of Eating Disorders, is the first familial study of men with anorexia nervosa. The results are similar to those of recent studies showing elevated rates of anorexia nervosa within families of women with the disorder.
"Although anorexia nervosa is exceedingly rare in men, our findings suggest that similar genetic factors in both sexes can cause the disease," said Dr. Michael Strober, lead author of the study and director of the Eating Disorders Program at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. "We hope one day to isolate specific genetic factors behind eating disorders and use that information to create more effective diagnostic and treatment methods."
The study examined the lifetime incidence of full and partial anorexia nervosa in 747 relatives of 29 men with the disorder and 181 women with no symptoms. Researchers found 15 cases of anorexia nervosa among female relatives, 10 of them related to ill men, but no cases among male relatives, suggesting the disorder does not transmit preferentially to same-sex relatives.
In addition to Strober, members of the research team included Roberta Freeman, Carlyn Lampert and Jane Diamond, all of UCLA.
Victims of anorexia nervosa suffer severe malnutrition because they refuse to eat enough to maintain a normal body weight. They often exercise excessively and sometimes use laxatives or induce vomiting in their efforts to lose weight.
As the bodies of victims struggle to conserve resources, menstrual periods stop and the body starts to lose calcium from the bones. Severe cases can lead to an irregular heartbeat or heart failure as breathing and blood pressure rates decline.
The disorder occurs in about 0.6 percent of females but is extremely rare in males. About 90 percent of all cases occur in females.
To read about Dr. Strober's familial study of females with eating disorders (American Journal of Psychiatry, March 2000), visit (http://www.mentalhealth.ucla.edu/news/anorexia.html).
Materials provided by University Of California, Los Angeles. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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