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Anorexia and Autism Genetically Related, Study Finds

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The London based Maudsley Hospital’s Eating Disorders Unit views anorexia differently than most American hospitals, reports Maia Szalavitz in Time magazine on Jan. 19, 2009.

At Maudsley Hospital, Szalavitz writes, “…anorexia is not seen as a social disorder — or even primarily a psychological one….researchers at Maudsley believe the root cause [of anorexia] has little to do with social pressure.…anorexia is better explained by heredity— perhaps by some of the same genes associated with autism.” It seems science is linking more disorders to genes: diseases that were once believed to be caused by character flaws or dangerous lifestyles.

Yet in the United States, Szalavitz writes, “…most American treatment providers blame perfection-seeking parents and the media's idealization of hollow-cheeked actresses for eating disorders….” Although when models like Kate Moss state that “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” and then Time magazine actually puts it in print; it is difficult to believe that attitude has no affect on impressionable young girls.

Nevertheless, imagine the relief this news brings to American victims of anorexia who have tortured themselves with guilt thinking, why do I behave like this and why can’t I stop? And the parents who blame themselves thinking, I caused this by trying to be perfect: I expected good grades, I was too neat, I exercised or dieted too much.

However, in Szalavitz article, Dr. Walter Kaye, director of the eating disorders program at the University of California, San Diego, claims "We are where autism was 20 years ago. There were the same discussions about the mother causing kids to be autistic, and most of the theory and treatment was based on that,….I think that anorexia is as biological as autism. It's just 20 years behind in terms of research.”

The similarities between autism and anorexia that the Maudsley researchers found, Szalavitz reports, “…both anorexic and autistic patients have a tendency to behave obsessively and suffer from rigid ways of thinking. Tic disorders, which commonly affect people with autism, are found in 27% of people with severe anorexia.

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