Anorexia is a physical disorder and not purely psychological, a study suggests.
A study of more than 72,500 people has identified eight gene mutations linked to the eating disorder.
Scientists say anorexia is a metabolic disorder which happens when a chemical reaction in the body is not working properly.
Such disorders can be genetic such as Type 1 diabetes or triggered by diet or lifestyle such as Type 2 diabetes.
The landmark study published in the journal Nature Genetics may lead to the development of treatments to tackle the physical root of the condition.
Anorexia affects up to one in 50 women and has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.
Lead author Dr Gerome Breen, a neuroscientist at King’s College London, said: “Metabolic abnormalities seen in patients with anorexia nervosa are most often attributed to starvation.
“But our study shows metabolic differences may also contribute to the development of the disorder.
“Our analyses indicate the metabolic factors may play nearly or just as strong a role as purely psychiatric effects.”
Anorexia mainly effects young people during adolescence. It can last for decades for more than half of those afflicted.
Sufferers have a powerful fear of weight gain and have a distorted view of their own body image.
The international team analysed complete DNA of 16,992 patients and 55,525 healthy controls from 17 countries in the US, Europe and Australasia.
Some anorexics restrict caloric consumption to fewer than 400 calories per day, which is less than a quarter of what is typically recommended for adolescents.
Patients may quickly become emaciated and lose more than 25% of their typical body weight.
This rapid weight loss can lead to cardiac and brain changes, bone disease and in some cases death.
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