27 April 2016

A team of UK researchers has proposed that anorexia nervosa originates from a bacterial infection, rather than being a purely psychological condition.

And they think chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome could be caused by the same thing.

While this may be considered a bold call, the researchers from Lancaster University in the UK are adamant that psychological factors are not the primary cause

While they concede they haven’t narrowed down the initial bacterial cause, the idea is that these functional disorders are a form of autoimmune disease.

“The hypothesis proposed is that these functional disorders are caused by autoantibodies to neuronal proteins induced by molecular mimicry with microbial antigens.” write Dr Jim Morris et al in Medical Hypotheses.

The age incidence of these conditions, the marked female excess, increase with economic and technological advance, precipitation by infection and the paucity of histological changes are all consistent with the hypothesis, they say.

“The female excess in irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and anorexia nervosa is equally extreme, and therefore this fits with the idea that autoantibodies to nerve cells could be part of the pathogenesis of these conditions.”

If the condition is determined to have a bacterial origin, that means that anorexia could also be contagious. But the researchers argue that social factors are still likely to play a role in who develops the illness and who doesn’t.

The team say they will now test their hypothesis on animal models.

Last Reviewed: 27/04/2016



Microbes, molecular mimicry and molecules of mood and motivation.