Anxiety also has a genetic basis: in particular, it is linked to the variants of at least 6 genes (i.e. of 6 DNA traits capable of decoding proteins) that are also partially involved in the incidence of other mood disorders, such as depression, or serious psychiatric disorders, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. This, according to researchers from Yale University (USA), authors of the study, explains why anxiety is also often associated with these illnesses.
The results of the study were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry . In order to identify the traits of our genetic code that predispose us to anxiety, the researchers analyzed the DNA of more than 200,000 former soldiers, collected within the context of the “Million Veteran Program” (a large US project, launched in 2011 to study in detail how variants in the genetic code and lifestyles influence the health of veterans). In their “hunt” for the genes linked to anxiety, the psychiatrists from Yale worked together with doctors from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the department that takes care of soldiers once they leave active service.
The results of this study – one of the largest ever conducted on the subject – was that there are in fact genetic variants associated with a higher incidence of anxiety, five of which are typical of Caucasians (i.e. people with white skin) and one that is typical of African-Americans. The 6 genes are associated with the regulation of other genes, or, in one case, with the metabolism of estrogen, which would explain the higher incidence of anxiety among women (however, further proof of this will be required, seeing that the vast majority of the DNA examined belonged to male veterans).
Having in-depth information on the genes that predispose us to a condition, like anxiety, which affects around one in ten people and often indirectly causes the abuse of drugs with serious side effects (such as, for example, benzodiazepine), could contribute to the development of prevention strategies in the future and, hopefully, the identification of therapies that are more specific and effective than those currently available.