Genetics and Biology

An individual suffering from an eating disorder have many reasons for developing it. Sometimes the Genetics and Biology dispositions in the eating disorders are important to explore.

A lot of researches have proven that the factors contributing the eating disorders are not just emotional, behavioral and environmental reasons. They also majorly depends on genetic predispositions. As many researches have proven that genetic factors contribute to the onset of eating disorders.

Researches at the Maudsley Hospital in London suggested that people with Anorexia were more likely to have twice variations in the gene for serotonin receptors, part of which helps to determine appetite of an individual. As a result of overproduction of Serotonin which results in acute stress for the individual as they are always in a state of “FLIGHT or FIGHT”.

Studies done by Dr. Walter Kaye, of the University of Pittsburgh, have conducted the study of patients who recovered from Bulimia. He found out that patients have abnormal disturbances in the levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine than compared to normal people.

And even the patients who have recovered from Bulimia still has abnormal Serotonin level which will create all the negative moods and these obsessions for perfectionism and exactness. While the level of other chemicals dopamine and norephinephrine are normal.

What is Serotonin?

(SAYR-uh-TOH-nin) A substance that is found in central nervous system which acts as a Neurotransmitter (a substance that nerves use to send messages to one another) and a Vasoconstrictor ( a substance that causes blood vessels to narrow)

When this Serotonin is at normal levels, you may feel more focused and emotionally stable, happier and calmer. Abnormally low levels of serotonin might be found in someone who is suicidal, who is particularly agressive towards others, or a person who is extremely depressed.

So how might this translate for someone with an Eating Disorder?

Many health conditions are associated with low levels of Serotonin as it leads to Depression and other mood problems, Anxiety, sleep problems and sometimes people also show suicidal behavior. Even scientists still have a lot to learn about the role of Serotonin in the body.

Low levels of serotonin, which could contribute to a person’s sense of depression, are in theory, increased during episodes of binging, making the person actually feel better. As theorized, binging on sweets, starches or carbohydrates would increase serotonin and produce a sense of well-being.

The exact opposite would be true in conjunction with self-starvation or restriction. If too much serotonin is present, this may create a sense of perpetual anxiety, and in theory, by reducing the intake of calories to starvation level, the result would be a calming or sense of regaining control.


People should note that eating too much or completely restricting the food can lead to depression and anxiety, which are known side effects of malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies, both for under eaters and overeaters. Abnormal serotonin levels have been found in people with other mental illness such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), all of which can, for some, co-exist with an Eating Disorder.

NOT the Only Factor:

Not all people who are having too much Serotonin or very less Serotonin develop an eating disorder. There are people who live with the altering levels but with no eating disorder. For some, low or high levels of serotonin may make a person predisposed to relying on food as a way to control how they feel, but that doesn’t eliminate all of the non-biological possibilities.

All the non-biological possibilities play a major role in people having eating disorder. Family environments and relations with other humans, how they are taught to deal with their emotions and cope up with the stress and anxiety they deal every day. Another factor which also contribute the disorders are previous history of drug or alcohol addictions or sexual abuse, and bad parenting too plays an important role in people’s life.

Fighting Anorexia: No One to Blame

What Do We Do With This Information?

Knowing the levels of Serotonin in a patient can be very helpful in treating the person dealing with eating disorders. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) Medications can help to control the levels of Serotonin. Each individual will ultimately respond best when they can find a therapist and treatment team that can address all issues.

Also read our section on other associated mental health conditions that may sometimes co-exist with an Eating Disorder.

Link: Fighting Anorexia: No One to Blame

Link: Anorexics Can Blame Their Parents

Link: Brave New World: The Role of Genetics in the Prevention and Treatment of Eating Disorders

Link: Anorexia found in rural Africa

Link: Chemical malfunction plays role in bulimia, researchers say

Link: Genetic clues to eating disorders

Link: Brain Chemicals May Cause Bulimia

Link: Research on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the role of Serotonin

Link: Center for Overcoming Problem Eating and Eating Disorders Clinic

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