This review describes the various subtypes of eating disorders and examines factors associated with the risk of illness. It considers evidence that the development and maintenance of eating disorders is due to gene-environment interactions (GxE) that alter genetic expression via epigenetic processes. It describes how environmental factors such as those associated with nutrition and/or stress may cause epigenetic changes which have transcriptional and phenotypic effects, which, in turn, alter the long term risk of developing an eating disorder. It reviews theoretical and practical issues associated with epigenetic studies in psychiatry and how these are relevant to eating disorders. It examines the limited number of epigenetic studies which have been conducted in eating disorders and suggests directions for further research. Understanding the relationship between epigenetic processes and the risk of an eating disorder opens possibilities for preventive and/or therapeutic interventions. For example, epigenetic changes associated with diet and weight may be reversible and those associated with cognitive processes may be accessible to pharmacological interventions.
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