A new study lead by Howard Steiger, PhD and the head of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute Eating Disorder Program has found that chronic anorexia can alter a person on a genetic level.
The study found that the longer someone is anorexic, the more likely they are to show alterations to methylation DNA. This means that anorexia alters gene expression which can change a person’s emotional reactions, physiological functions and even behaviours. In essence, anorexia can completely change someone’s personality and their behaviours by altering their genetics.
"These findings help clarify the point that eating disorders are not about superficial body image concerns or the result of bad parenting. They represent real biological effects of environmental impacts in affected people, which then get locked in by too much dieting," says Dr. Steiger, adding, "We already know that eating disorders, once established, have a tendency to become more and more entrenched over time. These findings point to physical mechanisms acting upon physiological and nervous system functions throughout the body that may underlie many of the effects of chronicity. All in all, they point to the importance of enabling people to get effective treatments as early in the disorder process as possible."
Put simply, people suffering from anorexia need treatment as soon as possible. The longer they have to wait, the more entrenched the disease becomes and the more the person is likely to change. More importantly, the longer it takes to get treatment, the harder the disease will be to overcome. Anorexic behaviours reinforce the eating disorder and make it more resistant to treatment.
While time makes it harder to treat, waiting also puts anorexics at other risks. Anorexia is the most deadly mental illness and the longer someone lives with it the more their body suffers. It can cause osteoporosis, anaemia and a number of other problems that could plague suffers for a lifetime.