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Shared genetic influences between eating disorders and gastrointestinal disease in a large, population-based sample of adult women and men.

Psychological Medicine 2023 November 4
BACKGROUND: Some preliminary research suggests higher rates of gastrointestinal disease in individuals with eating disorders (EDs). However, research is limited, and it remains unknown what etiologic factors account for observed associations. This was the first study to examine how EDs and dimensional ED symptoms (e.g. body dissatisfaction, binge eating) are phenotypically and etiologically associated with gastrointestinal disease in a large, population-based twin sample.

METHODS: Adult female ( N = 2980) and male ( N = 2903) twins from the Michigan State University Twin Registry reported whether they had a lifetime ED (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder) and completed a measure of dimensional ED symptoms. We coded the presence/absence of lifetime gastrointestinal disease (e.g. inflammatory bowel disease) based on responses to questions regarding chronic illnesses and medications. We first examined whether twins with gastrointestinal disease had higher rates of EDs and ED symptoms, then used correlated factors twin models to investigate genetic and environmental contributions to the overlap between disorders.

RESULTS: Twins with gastrointestinal disease had significantly greater dimensional ED symptoms ( β = 0.21, p < 0.001) and odds of a lifetime ED (OR 2.90, p = 0.001), regardless of sex. Shared genetic factors fully accounted for the overlap between disorders, with no significant sex differences in etiologic associations.

CONCLUSIONS: Comorbidity between EDs and gastrointestinal disease may be explained by overlap in genetic influences, potentially including inflammatory genes implicated in both types of disorders. Screening for gastrointestinal disease in people with EDs, and EDs in those with gastrointestinal disease, is warranted.

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