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Could 'Early Birds' Be at Higher Risk for Anorexia?
  • Posted January 4, 2024

Could 'Early Birds' Be at Higher Risk for Anorexia?

People who are early risers appear to be at greater risk of developing anorexia, a new study claims.

This differs from other disorders like depression, binge eating and schizophrenia, all of which appear to be associated with folks being “night owls,” the researchers noted.

“Our findings implicate anorexia nervosa as a morning disorder in contrast to most other evening-based psychiatric diseases and support the association between anorexia nervosa and insomnia as seen in earlier studies,” said senior study author Hassan Dashti, an assistant investigator in Massachusetts General Hospital's Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine in Boston.

Previous research has suggested a link between eating disorders and the internal clock of the human body, which controls sleep cycles and affects nearly every organ in the body, researchers said in background notes.

For this study, the team examined genes specifically associated with anorexia, looking to see whether people with a higher genetic risk for the disorder also tended to have a specific sleep cycle.

The team discovered a two-way association between genes linked to anorexia and genes associated with waking early and going to bed early. Having anorexia could lead a person to be an early bird, and an earlier wake time could mean a person is at higher risk of anorexia.

An elevated genetic risk score for anorexia was also associated with a higher risk of insomnia, researchers found.

Anorexia has the second-highest death rate among psychiatric diseases and is very difficult to treat, researchers noted. Current therapies for anorexia have relapse rates up to 52%.

The researchers hope these new findings could help the development of new sleep-based treatments for anorexia.

“The clinical implications of our new findings are currently unclear; however, our results could direct future investigations into circadian-based therapies for anorexia nervosa prevention and treatment,” lead author Hannah Wilcox, a researcher at Massachusetts General, said in a hospital news release.

More information

The Mayo Clinic has more on anorexia.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, Jan. 4, 2024

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