Eating Disorders and Epigenetics

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2017;978:93-103. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-53889-1_5.


Eating disorders (EDs) are characterized by intense preoccupation with shape and weight and maladaptive eating practices. The complex of symptoms that characterize EDs often arise through the activation of latent genetic potentials by environmental exposures, and epigenetic mechanisms are believed to link environmental exposures to gene expression. This chapter provides an overview of genetic factors acting in the etiology of EDs. It then provides a background to the hypothesis that epigenetic mechanisms link stresses such as obstetric complications and childhood abuse as well as effects of malnutrition to eating disorders (EDs). The chapter then summarizes the emerging body of literature on epigenetics and EDs-mainly studies on DNA methylation in samples of anorexia and bulimia. The available evidence base suggests that an epigenetically informed perspective contributes in valuable ways to the understanding of why people develop EDs.

Keywords: Anorexia; Binge eating; Bulimia; Eating disorders; Epigenetics; Methylation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / etiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / genetics*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Malnutrition / etiology
  • Malnutrition / physiopathology
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology
  • Psychology, Adolescent
  • Stress, Psychological


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Neurotransmitter Agents