Monday, February 9, 2009


I was watching part of the Martha Stewart show last week and caught an interesting segment on personalized medicine. She featured Kari Stefansson, MD, PhD, CEO and co-founder of deCODEme, a company in Iceland which detects risk factors for certain illnesses through your DNA. Their idea behind the genetic testing is to provide information to individuals for the ability to make preventative decisions about their health for the future.

The complete scan includes 35 illnesses covering various cancers, heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, restless leg syndrome, nicotine dependence, glaucoma, psoriasis, and others. The company says it is different from its competitors, because it gives better accuracy and information on ancestry. Of course, this testing is only capable if you have about $1,000 lying around.

This made me think about genetics and eating disorders. Hypothetically, (we all know how I love to ask these questions) if there was a specific "anorexia," "bulimia," or "beinge eating disorder" gene, would you have gotten tested?

Another question I thought about was from a statement Stefansson said. His thoughts were that within 5-10 years, every child would have this type of testing--that it would be a standard thing in infant care. If this were the case (and I doubt it could actually get to the point of being "standard" as some people would be opposed to it), would you get your child tested for an eating disorder gene or any of the illnesses they cover?

*Note: My own belief is that any eating disorder is not solely biological nor cultural, but a combination of both. The questions asked are just for hypothetical questions and to get discussion going. ;-)


Lola Snow said...

I think it's such a tricky question because in your footnote you have hit the nail on the head. In a word, yes. I think knowing that my child could potentially grow up to be where I am now, even with the most fantastic parenting in the world, would lead me to get help for them before they had to suffer too much. That's if you buy into all ED's being firmly biological, and antagonised by nurture and environment. As for the rest? Well I'm nealt positive I carry a nicotine dependance gene. My parents had quit by the time I could crawl and maintained a very anti-tobacco stance, but as soon as i turned 14 I went out on a whim and bought cigarettes and haven't stopped since. Some might say rebellion, but I have never done something which felt so "Natural" in my life....sadly!!

Lola x

Kim said...

This is an interesting post. In my opinion, anorexia is somewhere on my genetic code, and circumstance brought it to fruition. One therapist told me, "It's like a wick waiting to be lit." That's my opinion. One of my greatest fears is passing down an "ed gene" to a child. I don't know what I think about genetic testing. Even if I could test for a gene, would that make any difference? Even after all I've been through, I'm not sure I would have known to do any differently had I know I'd "get" an ed. I wouldn't know what the heck to do if my child had an ed. If anything, knowing of the gene would just make me anxious. I think all I could try to do is love myself (or my child) regardless of what genetic cards had been dealt.

Susie said...

cystic fibrosis runs in my family so this is a reality. in fact my mum and dad got tested before having me. mum had the gene but luckily for me dad didn't. depending on medical treatment advances i expect i'll get tested for that gene when and if the time comes.

As for EDs? personally i'm with Carrie i think its a mix of factors and personally couldn't see any link to genetics in my case.

Cammy said...

These tests are still really a waste of money. They're not all that accurate, and have only a limited number of things they can detect. At some point I'm sure we'll be able to get detailed personal genetic profiles, but right now it is still in the gimmick stage.

I think that they'll find genes that correlate to EDs, but finding a cause is different.... it's hard to test for some mental illnesses because epigenetics, environment, etc etc all play a big role.

Still, if someone offered the test to me for free? When it comes to my curiosity, resistance is futile, I'd take the test but would not put much faith in the results.

PS See here for more info about the real accuracy of deCODEme:

Cammy said...

By the way I didn't mean to come off as harsh in my earlier comment, you bring up an extremely valid and interesting point about the psychological issues involved in knowing possibly too much about ourselves, feeling doomed by our genes. I just get frustrated with companies that try to exploit people's anxieties over these things.

Gaining Back My Life said...

I've acually heard about this; and I do not like the implications it demonstrates. It's like China, where you can have only a set amount of children. So are people going to continue to screen through eggs until they determine the 'perfect child'?

Tiptoe, I completely agree with you that ed's are both 'nature and nuture'. But it's like debating the chicken or the egg - which came first?

MelissaS said...

this is one of the reasons i've never thought i was able to raise a child. i wouldn't know what to do! and if my child showed signs of having an Ed, i'd have to take to bed. and i certainly wouldn't know what to do if my child started gaining more weight than was supposed to be healthy. i'd be terrified that i'd trigger some kind of eating disorder.

as for the other ailments... i'm overwhelmed. i'm going to feed my goldfish.

Kyla said...

what a fantastic question! Would I have tested myself for it? Probably not, as I remember a time when eating disorders baffled me and I KNEW I could never fall prey to one, they were so illogical and confusing and etc etc - obviously I did not understand EDs at all before I developed one. I was certain I wouldn't get one, though, so I probably would have tested for other ailments, like heart disease or something. I'm not sure I'd test my child for it...because I think preventative measures are important regardless of whether one's child is going to develop an ED. I think we should teach healthy attitudes toward food, media literacy, body love, etc regardless of whether an ED is in store. Given my and my family history, I'm going to look out for ED signs in a kid no matter what. Unless they develop a really solid cure for EDs, I probably wouldn't get the test done. Who wants their child's future tainted with that when they ought to raise them the same way anyway?

Kyla said...

PS, as Chris Kraatz argues, I think people with EDs tend to have a lot of fantastic qualities as well - would "curing" an ED squelch these common traits as well? I think prevention is the best medicine. I would never want to screen a kid for something like an ED and terminate the pregnancy based on that. That'd be awful. And I don't think having the gene or genes, if it/they exist, mean a person will automatically develop the disorder.

Just Eat It! said...

I think, looking back, if I could have been tested for the genetic element, I would have. I come from a family where eating disorders have been present. My family would never have thought that I would have turned out to be the eating disordered child, if you will. I'm under the belief that genetics are the "gun" and environment is the "trigger."

It would have been interesting to compare the results between my sister and I. The "eating disorder gene" seems to have passed over her completely. She was placed in all of these traumatic jazzercise classes when she was little and never thought anything of her weight. I, on the other hand, never had to experience any of this and I still turned out anorexic.

I notice that a lot of siblings seem to have eating disorders, specifically twins, so that's what convinced me of the genetic element.

Kim said...

Just Eat It, I think that's a great way to put it, with the gun and the trigger analogy. Like you, I've seen the "eating disorder gene" completely bypass my sister, despite the fact that she was in high-pressure, competitive gymnastics for over a decade. We're only a year-and-a-half apart. We were raised together. We went to the same schools. Nothing "traumatic" happened to either of us (aside from normal life ups and downs). Yet, I'm anorexic, something I don't think she'll ever really understand. She has zero issues with food or body image. It's interesting.

Tiptoe said...

Everyone, great discussion! All have brought up some interesting points.

Lola, interesting your feeling with nicotine being so natural to yo. I don't know enough about the nicotine dependence genes/factors, but it is certainly not out of the question.

Kim, I agree with you passing down an "ed" gene is scary to me too, and I'm not sure how I'd react. (that's my next blog post by the way)

It's interesting about your sister who was a competitive gymnast. I was as well, but my ED actually started after I retired from the sport. Prior to that, I had zero body issues.

Susie, I think since CF runs in your family, it makes sense to get tested for it.

Cammy, you were right in pointing out the reliability factors in these "home kits." I was skeptical of the company and probably should have done a little more research before posting.

You're right that there are so many factors at play.

GBML, I'm worried about this type of thing too, especially with insurance companies, even if it may be prohibited in using it against you.

MelissaS, I'm with you about the kid thing. I think it is a very big balancing act, but I do think any of us could really persevere.

Kyla, I am similar to you in that I never thought I could develop an ED. I really used to think I loved food too much to ever be disordered.

I agree with you on prevention and teaching good, healthy food attitudes early on.

JEI, I agree with you about the gun and trigger analogy. Do you think if you had been tested, it would have prevented you from going down the ED path--that there just would have been more of a hyper-awareness?