This month, we’re focusing on men’s health. And while anorexia and other eating disorders
are traditionally thought of as a “female condition,” men suffer as well. Perhaps, in ways, a man’s struggle with anorexia is even more debilitating because it is less accepted in the seemingly “male-dominated” society we live in.
It’s true that fewer men are diagnosed with anorexia. In fact, men account for only 10 percent of the anorexic population, and no one knows exactly why males are less prone to fall victim to the condition. Perhaps it's because our culture places so much pressure on women
to be size-zero thin and beautiful, while we tend to value muscular and fit men.
However, men are not completely immune from the ravages of anorexia. And recent research is revealing which men
are more likely to develop the disease. Studies show that males who have a twin sister are more at risk to develop anorexia than other men, including those with a twin brother. This suggests that exposure to female sex hormones in-utero could be a risk factor for anorexia.
Marco Procopi, M.D., of the University of Sussex, Brighton, England, and Paul Marriott, PhD, of the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada looked at data from a study of Swedish twins. They found that female twins were more likely than male twins to suffer with anorexia. The only exception was among males who had a fraternal twin sister. “In fact, their risk is at a level that is not statistically significantly different from that of females from such a pair,” the authors state.
The explanation for this is that in pregnancies that result in a female, it’s believed that a hormonal substance is produced which increases the risk of developing anorexia. Since the male twin would be “exposed” to this substance, they may have a greater risk as well.
More than likely the hormonal substance is a sex steroid hormone which could influence neurodevelopment. While anorexia is most likely a result of both genetic and environmental factors, this could be a chief factor that predetermines the risk of developing the eating disorder as adults – in males OR females.