Bulimia Nervosa is probably not thought of by many people, as something that can be ‘caught’ or inherited. However, as more research is carried out, the evidence increasingly points towards the likelihood that there is a hereditary component to the disease. It seems that bulimia, along with conditions such as alcoholism, substance abuse and depression, can affect generations and generations of the same family. Clementine St Louis treats adolescents with Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder or Exercise Addiction.

The Evidence

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre linked an area of chromosome 10p to families with a history of bulimia, providing strong evidence that ‘genes play a determining role in who is susceptible to developing the eating disorder.’ According to the Bio-Medicine website, 323 women between 18 and 28 who had any type of eating disorder were analyzed, to compare with another group of 181 healthy women. It was found that bulimia was four times more frequent among the relatives of the first group.

Other researchers have discovered that in a family with a history of eating disorders, a child will be ten times more likely to suffer from the disease. The results of identical twin studies have also revealed a genetic link.

Children Learn from their Surroundings

As well as there being a hereditary aspect to bulimia, a negative or disturbed family environment can also lead to the illness being acquired. For example, growing up around family members with an abnormal attitude towards food and eating significantly increases the risk of the child developing her own eating disorder. Daughters are particularly likely to pick up on a mother’s disordered approach to food, especially during the vulnerable teenage years.

Who is at Risk?

Bulimics can get extremely clever at covering up their illness so family members may not even be aware that a parent or sibling is battling with the disease or has suffered from it in the past. However, it is important that everyone knows whether it runs in their family or not. Many individuals have gone through the pain of an eating disorder only to discover, later, that a large proportion of their relatives, stretching back for years and years, have faced the same problem. Perhaps if they had known that they were at a greater risk of developing the disease, they would have been able to avoid it. Anyone concerned about developing an eating disorder should ask their mother, father or grandparents whether anyone in the family has suffered from one.

The fact that bulimia might be passed down from parent to child does not mean that the disease is inevitable. If a person knows that their mother or your grandmother suffered from the eating disorder, they will be more aware of their actions and choices. In the same way that an individual who knows that skin cancer runs in his family will avoid sunbathing, so a person who knows that his family is susceptible to bulimia should avoid anything that will trigger the condition. Among other things this should include abstaining from extreme dieting.


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