Eating disorders caused by a malfunctioning immune system?
The eating disorders bulimia and anorexia and the characteristic behavioral problems associated with them are associated with different attacks of the body's own antibodies on the enzymes of the appetite-regulating metabolism. This has now been confirmed by scientists at Karolinska University after analyzing blood samples from some of those affected.
The researchers focused on detecting antibodies, some of which had previously been associated with the diseases. As they have now been able to prove, there are increased amounts of an antibody in the blood serum of the patients that attacks the stress and appetite-regulating alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH), a neuropeptide. The researchers also identified antibodies that attack vasopressin and oxytoxin neurohormones. These two messenger substances also play a role in controlling social behavior and motivation.
Further data comparisons then showed that the concentration of alpha-MSH antibodies in the serum correlates with the frequency and severity of behaviors that are characteristic of patients with eating disorders. However, differences in the molecular type of the antibody were also revealed between bulimia and anorexia. Further investigations should now clarify whether this deviation determines the development of one or the other disease.
According to the new findings, it is becoming more and more likely, according to the researchers, that the auto-aggressive changes in the immune system are a cause, but not a consequence, of the eating disorders. However, other factors are certainly involved in the onset of the disease. This becomes clear, among other things, from the fact that occasionally increased amounts of autoimmune antibodies can also be detected in the blood of he althy control persons.
Patients with anorexia nervosa, which affects around one percent of all women between the ages of 15 and 25, are so averse to eating that they sometimes develop life-threatening underweight. Those affected by the statistically somewhat more frequent binge eating (bulimia nervosa), on the other hand, often maintain their weight because they vomit after unbridled binge eating. Eating disorders, which are more often classified as mental than organic, are treated with a wide range of different therapies.