Microbiota Makeup Related to Anorexia Nervosa Behaviors

Patients with anorexia nervosa have a different gut microbial makeup than patients without the eating disorder, according to a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Patients with anorexia nervosa have a different gut microbial makeup than patients without the eating disorder, according to a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina Health Care studied stool samples from 26 anorexia nervosa and healthy patients to analyze the relevance of the gut microbial makeup to psychopathy in anorexia nervosa.

The researchers wanted to determine whether the intestinal microbiota was integral in metabolic function and weight regulation. The all female participant group completed the Beck Depression and Anxiety Inventories and the Eating Disorder Examining Questionnaire.

The researchers discovered the microbiota might affect the “gut brain axis,” the relationship between the gut microbiome and the brain. The stool samples taken from clinic admissions had fewer types of bacteria, which made for a less diverse bacterial landscape in the anorexia nervosa patients.

By the time the anorexia nervosa patients were discharged from the hospital, their microbial diversity had increased but was still significantly less varied when compared to the healthy patients. Typically, microbial diversity is a sign of better overall health, the researchers added.

“We’re not able to say a gut bacterial imbalance causes the symptoms of anorexia nervosa, including associated symptoms, such as anxiety and depression,” the study’s senior author Ian Carroll, PhD explained in a press release. “But the severe limitation of nutritional intake at the center of anorexia nervosa could change the composition of the gut microbial community.”

Previous studies have established the link between gut bacteria, weight regulation, and behavior, but this study adds particularly to the relationship when discussing anorexia nervosa, the researchers explained. In animal studies, behaviors related to stress and anxiety were changed when germs were introduced to their microbiomes.

“We’re not saying that altering gut bacteria will be the magic bullet for people with anorexia nervosa,” Carroll cautioned. “Other important factors are at play, obviously. But the gut microbiota is clearly important for a variety of health and brain related issues in humans. And it could be important for people with anorexia nervosa.”

Further research is on the horizon — the team will examine the relationship between microbiome and brain in mice models to see how the factors affect biology and behavior. Their research would indicate if healthy, diverse microbiota could be a potential therapeutic route for anorexia nervosa patients in the future.

“If specific alterations in [patients’] microbiota could make nourishment less uncomfortable, help patients regulate their weight, and positively affect behavior, then we might see fewer readmissions and more cures,” researcher Cynthia Bulik, PhD said of the potential new microbiota therapies.