In a recent study published in PLoS One, a number of autoimmune diseases were found to be linked to eating disorders. The study researchers suggested that the autoimmune diseases may have played a role in the development of eating disorders.
The study comprised a large sample of more than 2,000 Finnish people with eating disorders. Of these 2,000 people, a higher proportion that would otherwise be expected of a healthy sample, reported coexisting autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes type 1, coeliac disease and IBS occur when the immune system incorrectly attacks and destroys healthy cells in your body.
The researchers said of their findings “The immune system appears to contribute to the start and continued problems of eating disorders, at least in this group of patients”.
Over the course of about 16 years, the researchers examined 2,342 people currently in treatment for bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.
Each patient was then compared with four age- and sex-matched healthy people. Also, data on 30 autoimmune diseases from a hospital discharge register from 1969 to 2010 were analyzed.
Results showed that 8.9% of the people with eating disorders and 5.4% of healthy people had been diagnosed with at least one autoimmune disease by the end of follow-up.
The immune system has previously been recognized as playing a role in disorders including autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, previous research has reported autoimmune diseases and severe infections to be significant risk factors for mood disorders and schizophrenia.
Eating disorders are known to have a very strong psychological component, but this study provides evidence for their also being a possible biological component to eating disorders.