Autoimmune Diseases Linked to Eating Disorders

SEPTEMBER 10, 2014
Amy Jacob
Investigators have found that many autoimmune diseases are implicated in the surge and development of eating disorders, according to a study published in PLoS One.
According to a large cohort study of approximately 2,000 patients conducted in Helsinki, Finland, patients suffering from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders are at a significantly higher risk for diagnoses of autoimmune disease.
Researchers discovered that about 9% of patients suffering from eating disorders were diagnosed with one or more autoimmune diseases, but the approximate number of controlled patients decreased to 5.4%. These findings specifically suggested that endocrinologic and gastroenterologic diseases such as type 1 diabetes and Crohn’s disease were more than twice as likely to occur in eating disorder patients.
Cited in an IBD news release, the rise in autoimmune diseases was not “exclusively due to endocrinological and gastroenterological diseases.” Increased diseases were still noted prior to treatment and subsequently after the follow-up, even when researchers observed patients excluding these two categories.
The study’s lead author, Anu Raevuori, MD, PhD, Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, reported to Medscape Medical News, “I was surprised about the robust link that we found between autoimmune diseases and eating disorders.” Raevuori continued, “On the other hand, my clinical impression is that in many patients with eating orders, particularly those with long-lasting and persistent symptoms, the disorder appears to have a biological background.”
As autoimmune processes seemingly maintain eating disorders, physicians are encouraged, when treating eating disorder patients, to consider the risk of autoimmune diseases as possible underlying their neuropsychiatric and somatic symptoms connected to anxiety, mood disturbance, and disordered eating.
With more researched uncovered, questions are raised for the next steps in management and prevention. Raevuori commented, “Our findings support the link between immune-mediated mechanisms and development of eating disorders. Future studies are needed to explore the risk of autoimmune diseases and immunological mechanisms in individuals with eating disorders and their family members.”

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