Anorexia may be caused by a type of bacteria that interferes with the way the immune system works, causing the antibodies to target the brain and activate feelings of self-disgust, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the Morecambe Bay NHS Trust and Lancaster University have found that an infection can affect the immune system and its antibodies would act on the brain, causing extreme emotions such as fear and personal disgust.
In addition to anorexia, the researchers have linked bacterial origins to other diseases, including chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The study, the first of its kind to link bacteria to anorexia, explores that diseases begin after a type of bacteria threatens the body and fights against it with a robust immune response.
The researchers said that this could be a case of misidentification, in which the body's immune system responds to a foreign object but produces antibodies that attack healthy organs. In this case, the antibodies attack the brain.
The researchers said that women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases and that they are 10 times at higher risk of developing conditions like anorexia, CFS and IBS.
In Britain, about 750,000 people suffer from eating disorders and around 75,000 have anorexia. About seven million Britons are diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and 250,000 people suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome.
Anorexia, or anorexia nervosa, is considered an eating disorder wherein the person suffers from a distorted perception of body weight. People with this condition control their weight and shape, and even take extreme measures that can disrupt or alter their daily activities.
People with anorexia maintain their weight by restricting the amount of food they eat, and in some cases, starve themselves. They control calorie intake by vomiting after eating and use laxatives, diuretics and weight loss supplements.
"While the cause of an eating disorder is still unknown, current evidence suggests that they result from a genetic predisposition triggered by a particular event in the sufferer's life. We look forward to hearing more as this research strand is pursued further," said Andrew Radford, the Chief Executive of Beat, a charity for eating disorders.
Photo: Christy Mckenna | Flickr