May 25, 2024

Genetic Link Found Between Anorexia Nervosa and Being an Early Riser, Study Indicates

A recent study conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has revealed a new genetic link between anorexia nervosa and being an early riser. Unlike other psychiatric disorders such as depression, binge eating disorder, and schizophrenia, which tend to be associated with evening preferences, anorexia nervosa has been found to be linked to waking up early. The study, published in JAMA Network Open, also showed a correlation between anorexia nervosa and the risk of insomnia.

Previous research has hinted at a possible connection between eating disorders and the body’s internal clock, known as the circadian clock, which regulates various biological functions, including sleep and affects almost every organ in the body. Building on this understanding, the researchers aimed to delve deeper into this relationship by examining the genes associated with anorexia nervosa, the circadian clock, and sleep traits such as insomnia.

To assess the relationship between these traits, the researchers utilized a statistical method called Mendelian Randomization. This approach helps understand how genes associated with one trait can impact other traits of interest. For example, by examining the sleep patterns of individuals with genetic differences that predispose them to anorexia nervosa, the researchers were able to gather evidence of the connection between anorexia nervosa and sleep.

The findings of the study revealed a two-way association between genes linked to anorexia nervosa and morning chronotype, which refers to individuals who wake up early and go to bed early. In simpler terms, the study suggests that being an early riser may increase the risk of developing anorexia nervosa, and conversely, individuals with anorexia nervosa may experience earlier wake times. The researchers also discovered a correlation between anorexia nervosa and insomnia.

Further investigation into the connection between anorexia nervosa and insomnia was conducted using the Mass General Brigham Biobank. By creating a genetic risk score for anorexia nervosa, the scientists found that higher scores were associated with an increased risk of insomnia.

Dr. Hassan S Dashti, the senior author of the study and an assistant investigator at MGH, commented on the significance of the findings, stating, “Our findings implicate anorexia nervosa as a morning disorder in contrast to most other evening-based psychiatric diseases and support the association between anorexia nervosa and insomnia as seen in earlier studies.”

Anorexia nervosa is a serious eating disorder with limited treatment options and high relapse rates of up to 52%. Despite its devastating consequences, the cause of the disease remains unclear. Given that anorexia nervosa has the second-highest mortality rate among psychiatric disorders, further research is urgently needed to develop new prevention strategies and treatments.

Hannah Wilcox, the lead author of the study and a researcher at MGH, highlighted the potential implications of the findings, stating, “The clinical implications of our new findings are currently unclear; however, our results could direct future investigations into circadian-based therapies for anorexia nervosa prevention and treatment.”

As the research uncovers more about the genetic links between anorexia nervosa, circadian rhythms, and sleep patterns, it offers promising avenues for developing targeted interventions and therapies to address this challenging disorder.

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1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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