A new genetic study has revealed anorexia, previously thought to be solely a psychiatric disease, is influenced by metabolic factors.

Anorexia is an eating disorder and a serious mental health condition. Sufferers try to keep their weight as low as possible by eating as little as possible or exercising as much as they can. Sufferers experience low self-esteem and often view themselves as fat even when they are healthy or underweight.

Researcher compared the genomes of 16,992 anorexia nervosa patients to 55,525 controls. Eight distinct genetic variants were found to be characteristic of the anorexia patients.

Some of these genetic variations were also characteristic of other mental health disorders, such as OCD and schizophrenia. This indicates a genetic basis for the psychiatric effects of anorexia, including low self-esteem and unrealistic perceptions of their body.

However, other genetic variants were found to affect metabolic function. The genes impact body size, lipid processing and physical activity. All variants were found to be independent of body mass index. This research indicates that anorexia is not solely a psychiatric disease, but also a metabolic one.

These insights could help understand some of the common symptoms of anorexia, such as excessive exercising.

This research should inform how anorexia is treated. Current treatment focuses on re-nourishment and therapy, but this is not always effective. Patients often struggle to put on weight again even if they are eating healthily. The genetic evidence of the metabolic basis of anorexia could inform future medications, which could complement psychiatric therapy.