Azara Blog: Anorexia allegedly linked with hormones in womb

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Date published: 2007/12/04

The BBC says:

Babies who go on to develop anorexia may be programmed in the womb by their mother's hormones, evidence suggests.

Women are usually much more likely than men to have the eating disorder, but a University of Sussex study found men with a female twin were more at risk.

This suggests the hormones released to aid female development may be key.

Commenting on the Archives of General Psychiatry study, a UK expert said other factors in childhood and adolescence remained important.
No-one is sure why women are more prone than men. Some experts suggest that the pressures of modern society are partly to blame while others look at brain changes much earlier in life.

Research into twins is a way to examine the factors involved, as the single most important period for brain development is during the months of pregnancy.

Dr Marco Procopio, from the University of Sussex, worked with Dr Paul Marriott from the University of Waterloo in Canada to look at information drawn from thousands of Swedish twins born between 1935 and 1958.

Overall, as expected, female twins were more likely to develop anorexia than male twins.

The only exception was among mixed-sex twins, where the male was as likely to develop anorexia as the female.

The researchers wrote that the most likely reason was because of sex steroid hormones released into the womb during pregnancy.

This is a bit of a grand theory given how little evidence they have for it. Not only are "other factors in childhood and adolescence" likely to be important, but even societal views (e.g. who gets classified as anorexic) could make a difference.

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