Eating Disorder? Blame Bacteria, Not Trauma

A devastating eating disorder may be caused by bacteria that confuse the immune system, leading it to attack the brain and trigger feelings of personal disgust, according to latest British research.

Furthermore, this bacteria is also linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).


A New Theory For Eating Disorder

This is the first theory to link eating disorder to a physical infection, in contrast to the traditional view that blames psychological, environmental, and social factors.

These experts from Lancaster University and University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust say it “stretches credulity” to think that such serious conditions are simply the result of mental trauma or psychosocial problems.


The researchers point to the fact that women are far more susceptible to autoimmune diseases — such as pernicious anemia — where the body’s own immune system begins to attack healthy cells.

Likewise, women are around ten times more likely to suffer from anorexia, IBS, and CFS, which suggests the cause may be similar.


How Is Eating Disorder Caused?

Dr. Quenton Wessels of Lancaster University states the diseases begin when the body encounters a certain bacteria and switches on an immune response that accidentally begins to attack healthy parts of the body.

“It’s really a case of misidentification,” he said. “The immune system responds to something that is foreign by producing an antibody, which then attacks something else.


“Auto-antibodies acting on the brain’s limbic system could induce extremes of emotion, including disgust and fear.

“These then become linked in the minds of adolescent girls to culturally determined ideas of what is, and what is not, the ideal body shape and size. It is then a small step for disgust and fear to be directed at food and obesity, which the fashion industry currently demonizes.


“We think a specific bacteria is setting it off. It is almost like the microbes within you can determine your mood, which is profound in itself.”

Bacterial Or Psychosocial?

Around 750,000 people in Britain suffer from an eating disorder and around 75,000 from anorexia. Some 7 million people in Britain have IBS, while 250,000 have been diagnosed with CFS, or ME.


Previous research has suggested that IBS and CFS may have a bacterial origin. The onset of IBS commonly follows an episode of infectious diarrhea, while CFS can be triggered by infectious mononucleosis and viral hepatitis.

Writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, Dr. Jim Morris from the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust and Dr. Sue Broughton and Dr. Wessels from Lancaster University say that the current explanations for why the diseases occur are unsatisfactory.


“Psychological factors might be important but are unconvincing as the primary or major cause,” they write.

“There might, for instance, be an increased incidence of physical and sexual abuse in childhood in those who go on to manifest functional disorders. It is easy to see how this could influence symptoms in adults, but it stretches credulity to imagine abuse as the sole and sufficient cause of the functional disorder.”

Cure For IBS And CFS?

If proven, this out-of-the-box hypothesis opens up new avenues for treatment and potential cures for disorders that have, historically, proven exceptionally difficult to treat, much less cure.

Changing bacteria in the gut to remove the original disease culprit could also cure IBS and CFS. Now the team wants to test this theory on animal models to find out if they can spot the exact bacteria responsible.

Dr. Wessels added, “If we can isolate the culprits, perhaps we can restore the correct bacterial balance. We hope to move into the lab over the summer and hopefully have an answer by the end of the year.”

Andrew Radford, the chief executive of the eating disorder charity Beat, said, “Beat welcomes any new research that might add to our knowledge of the causes of and triggers for eating disorders.

“Anorexia nervosa claims more lives than any other mental illness, and eating disorders cost the UK economy over £16 billion a year; so the need for more knowledge and better treatment is acute.

“While the cause of eating disorders 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.”

This is exciting research, and it will help you realize how important the gut microbiome is to all facets of health. This is the very reason I specialize in this area.