Anorexia is a very rare and complex psychological disorder that is characterized by dramatic weight loss, perfectionism and an obsessive concern over weight gain.
About 0.6 percent of the adult population in the United States will suffer from anorexia at some point during their life, and approximately 90 percent of those who have it are female, according to National Institute of Mental Health.
As for many mental illnesses, the exact causes of anorexia are difficult to pinpoint, but scientific research has helped narrow the field of likely causes. For example, though media images of thin women and fashion models are often blamed for causing or contributing to anorexia, research has shown that the disorder has a strong genetic component.
"Family studies have consistently demonstrated that anorexia nervosa runs in families," according to Dr. Cynthia Bulik in her study, "The Genetics of Anorexia Nervosa," published in 2007 in the journal Annual Review of Nutrition .
Dr. Walter Kaye of the University of California, San Diego, one of the country's top eating disorder researchers, agrees that much of the concern and alarm over thin fashion models and other media images is misplaced.
"People have long been blaming families and the media, but eating disorders are biological illnesses, and better treatments will come from more biologically-based approaches," Kaye told Scientific American Mind magazine in June 2008.
The evidence so far suggests that anorexia is caused (or at least heavily influenced) by genetics. If true, this may mean that people with the disease could be treated with gene therapy.
- Is Rage a Mental Disorder?
- Top 10 Controversial Psychiatric Disorders
- Should Recovering Alcoholics Avoid Bars? The Answer Depends on Genetics
Got a question? Email it to Life's Little Mysteries and we'll try to answer it. Due to the volume of questions, we unfortunately can't reply individually, but we will publish answers to the most intriguing questions, so check back soon.