Have you ever wondered why you find it too difficult to get rid of those food disorders? It could be because you might be genetically prone to it. A recent study by the Karolinska Institute's Center for Eating Disorders Innovation found that genes may play a significant role in the development of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).
What is ARFID?
ARFID is a condition characterized by severely limited food choices that are not driven by body image concerns or a quest for thinness. The study analyzed nearly 17,000 pairs of twins and found that 79% of the risk of having ARFID could be explained by genetics, which is a higher degree of heritability than previously seen with disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
What does the study say?... The results of the study suggest that genetic studies have the potential to help understand the biological pathways underlying ARFID and aid in refining treatment. ARFID is estimated to affect 1-5% of the population and is not just picky eating. Kamryn Eddy, co-director of the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, notes that the findings help affirm that there are biological processes underlying ARFID and that it is not just a matter of personal choice.
At Massachusetts General Hospital, treatment for ARFID involves time-limited cognitive behavioral therapy, where patients practice getting comfortable with a wider range of foods. The researchers plan to investigate whether ARFID shares specific genetic factors with other conditions such as anxiety, neurodevelopmental disorders like autism, and gastrointestinal or metabolic illnesses.
What are the Symptoms of ARFID?
People with ARFID may have a strong aversion to various tastes, smells or textures, have little appetite, or may fear choking, vomiting or suffering an allergic reaction if they eat an unfamiliar food. This disorder can lead to nutritional deficiencies and stunted growth, although people with ARFID are not necessarily underweight. When ARFID persists into adulthood, it can also have social costs, such as making it difficult to participate in workplace lunches or dinner dates.
All in all, the study suggests that genetic vulnerability plays a major role in the development of ARFID and that genetic studies have huge potential to help understand the biological pathways underlying ARFID and refine treatment. The results also highlight the importance of treating ARFID as a legitimate disorder and not just picky eating.