Anorexia might be caused by a bacterial infection that affects the immune system, according to a study published in the journal Medical Hypotheses.
The race to understand anorexia as it is gaining more and more lives has remained challenging for researchers. Given the great number of cases, it is nerve-racking that so little is known of the condition. However, this lack of progress might be because we have been looking in the wrong places, suggests a new research that has provided unprecedented insight into the workings of anorexia.
Anorexia might be the consequence of a bacterial infection, argue researchers from the UK. This will mean it is not be a strictly psychological condition. The authors say that the possibility of the disease being purely psychological in nature is unconvincing. Though nowhere near confirmed, this study is expected to bring hope to those affected by the condition. It is to be noted that the researchers are of the opinion that the same cause might be behind chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome.
The hypothesis was put forward by Jim Morris from the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay (northwest England), and Lancaster University researchers Sue Broughton and Quenton Wessels . According to them, the bacterial infection would be linked to an autoimmune response; it is possible that antibodies made by the immune system to combat diseases end up getting confused such that they begin to attack the nerve cells of the individual instead of the pathogens.
The theory appears to be convincing as it could be used to explain a number of trends that have been observed concerning the patients of the condition. The hypothesis can help explain why this condition comes with “culturally determined ideas” that, for instance, characterise young women who are victims of anorexia. The authors say that antibodies destroying host cells can affect the limbic system of the brain, thereby causing the experience of extreme emotion like fear and disgust. This could then be linked to the established ideas of the ideal body shape and size in the minds of young girls, argue the researchers.
Furthermore, it might also explain the discrepancy in the occurrence of the condition among males and females, the latter having a greater risk of developing other such immune system problems.
“The female to male ratio in these conditions is of the order of 10,” write the researchers. “The female excess in irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and anorexia nervosa is equally extreme, and therefore this fits with the idea that auto-antibodies to nerve cells could be part of the pathogenesis of these conditions.”
While a causal bacterial infection would mean anorexia might eventually have easier treatment methods, it could also mean that the condition is contagious. But, of course, none of this is confirmed yet. The team looks forward to testing their theory in laboratory.