Qld scientists unlock anorexia genes

Australian scientists have found genes associated with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa.
Australian scientists have found genes associated with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa.

Australian researchers helping to unlock the secrets of anorexia have found genetics play a huge role in the onset of the eating disorder.

Scientists from QIMR Berghofer were part of the international team that identified the first eight genes associated with anorexia nervosa.

About 3100 Australians and New Zealanders who are living with or have recovered from the disorder contributed their DNA to the study, which delved into almost 17,000 cases worldwide.

Cateyana Martinez is one of those who took part.

She was diagnosed with anorexia as a 15-year-old, but the illness later morphed into bulimia and remained until she was 25.

"It's hell," she said of the illnesses.

"On top of having the worst critic inside your head all the time, you do feel like it's your fault."

Ms Martinez said her recovery was made harder by comments from people who assumed overcoming an eating disorder was an easy choice, rather than a crippling mental illness.

She wants women of all shapes and sizes to feel comfortable in their own skin. The negativity associated with 'fat shaming', food and eating habits and societal pressure about the way women should look must be stamped out.

"If all you see is super thin bodies, that's of course what you're going to try to aspire to and that's going to make you feel wrong in your body," the mother-of-two added.

The study, which also found a correlation between anorexia and illnesses like anxiety and depression, and a possible link to metabolism, were published on Tuesday in the Nature Genetics journal.

Head of the QIMR Berghofer's Genetic Epidemiology laboratory Professor Nicholas Martin said it was a huge step towards understanding the disorder.

"By showing the role genetics plays in anorexia nervosa, we should be able to remove any remaining stigma associated with the condition for patients and their families - especially parents," he said.

He wants tens of thousands more people across the globe who either had or have anorexia to provide saliva samples, which would help him and other researchers learn more and help reshape treatment options.

A study by professional services firm Deloitte in 2012 found one million Australians were living with an eating disorder. That year, 1200 male and female sufferers lost their lives.

Australian Associated Press