Eating Disorders Can Trigger Autoimmune Conditions

Patients suffering from eating disorders are more likely to develop autoimmune illnesses. This hypothesis is supported by the finding that there is an association between eating disorders and several autoimmune diseases in people with different genetic backgrounds.

Finnish researchers discovered a link between eating disorders and a variety of autoimmune diseases with varying hereditary backgrounds. Some somatic ailments have been linked to an increased incidence of eating disorders. Many of these diseases, including type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease, have an autoimmune basis. Furthermore, a history of autoimmune disease has been linked to an increased risk of mood disorders and schizophrenia.

8.9% of patients with eating disorders diagnosed with autoimmune disease

Researchers from the University of Helsinki, Helsinki University Central Hospital, and Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare set out to investigate the prevalence and incidence of autoimmune diseases in a large Finnish patient cohort suffering from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Patients (N=2342) treated at Helsinki University Central Hospital’s Eating Disorder Unit between 1995 and 2010 were compared to general population controls (N=9368) who were matched for age, gender, and place of residence. From 1969 to 2010, data on 30 autoimmune disorders were obtained from the Hospital Discharge Register. “We found that of patients with eating disorders, 8.9% had been diagnosed with one or more autoimmune diseases. Of the control individuals, the number was 5.4%,” says Dr. Anu Raevuori from the University of Helsinki. Type 1 diabetes accounted for the rise in endocrinological disorders, while Crohn’s disease was the leading cause of gastroenterological disease risk.

Link of autoimmune diseases and immunological mechanisms

The higher prevalence of autoimmune diseases among patients with eating disorders was not solely due to endocrinological and gastroenterological diseases; when these two categories were excluded, the increase in prevalence was seen in patients both before and after the onset of eating disorder treatment. “Our findings support the link between immune-mediated mechanisms and the 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,” Dr. Raevuori states.

Story Source:
Materials provided by Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Anu Raevuori, Jari Haukka, Outi Vaarala, Jaana M. Suvisaari, Mika Gissler, Marjut Grainger, Milla S. Linna, Jaana T. Suokas. The Increased Risk for Autoimmune Diseases in Patients with Eating Disorders. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (8): e104845 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0104845

Page citation:
Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki). “Patients with eating disorders have increased risk of autoimmune diseases.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 August 2014. <>.

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