My quest to find answers behind complicated, and often misunderstood, eating disorders began when I was a high school peer counselor. I counseled many girls I knew and was shocked that so many suffered in silence from eating disorders. Those girls inspired me to find answers to these debilitating disorders.
The Importance of Research
Biological and genetic research is important because for too long people have thought that girls with eating disorders are vain and just want to be pretty. That is not the case. Eating disorders are the most deadly psychiatric disorders, and they strike individuals, mostly girls, during adolescence, a critical stage of development, and during young adulthood.
The average length of an eating disorder is four to five years. Though this may seem like a relatively short time period, extensive, irreversible damage can occur. Psychologically, the disorders are devastating and can result in major delays academically. Biologically, women can suffer bone loss, heart and liver problems, infertility, and even death.
Because of their severity, these disorders deserve to be on the national agenda and receive the same level of attention, treatment resources, and funding as other disorders, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
We currently do not know what causes these disorders, but we are working hard to find out so treatments can be developed to save lives and help those who suffer, many in silence.
Our Focus: Hormones and Genetics
Ours was the first lab to show that genetic risk for eating disorders increases during puberty due to the increase of female hormones that occur during that stage of development.
Prior to our work, most thought that eating disorders were due to social and cultural pressures on teenagers. Our lab proved that genetic and hormonal risk factors are significant contributors to these developmental patterns of risk.
Hormones were obvious suspects in the etiology puzzle – but no one focused on them until we started our studies of puberty and the menstrual cycle. The interesting piece of this work is that if we can confirm that hormones are drivers of at least some of the risk for eating disorders, we can design treatments and and medical interventions. With each research study, we’re one step closer to helping millions of women get well.