Eating Disorder Awareness Week

This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week and there is increasing research investigating the potential link between the health of the microbiome and causes and outcomes for eating disorders.

Eating disorders (anorexia, nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder) were originally thought of as mental illnesses. There is increasing evidence however, that they are driven by a variety of factors, including genetics, environmental and socio-cultural influences, psychological factors and physiology.

In recent years, the microbiome has become a primary focus for research into understanding the origins of many conditions and diseases, including obesity, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

anorexic

This research has also started to investigate the potential role of the microbiome in relation to eating disorders and has found the following:

  • There is a high correlation between psychiatric and gastrointestinal symptoms – known as the gut-brain axis.
  • Eating disorders involve imbalanced appetite control and a dysfunction in the perception of fullness following eating – and the gut bacteria have been shown to influence both of these functions.
  • Analysis of the microbiomes of anorexia patients has shown significant differences in the diversity of their gut bacteria when they were admitted to hospital compared with when they had gained weight.
  • Food restriction changes the type and amount of food available for the gut bacteria to thrive and affects the types of bacteria that are able to survive.
  • Chronic caloric deprivation reduces the diversity of types of gut bacteria and this has been linked to illness and disease.
  • Liquid (enteric) feeding, which is often used to treat patients with eating disorders is extremely low in (devoid of) fibre and re-feeding is associated with gastrointestinal problems including constipation, bloating and pain.

Evidently, a greater understanding of the biological causes of eating disorders may improve the standard of care for sufferers.

Based on current research however, it appears that supporting the gut microbiome with probiotics may be a first step to help to reduce gastrointestinal issues and support brain and gut function, potentially supporting treatment outcomes.