Eating disorders could soon join the growing number of mental illnesses that have a biological link.
New research shows that a protein produced by some intestinal bacteria could be the source of disordered eating, from anorexia to bulimia.
Eating disorders are estimated to affect about 15-20 percent of the general population, and evidence is growing to show that eating disorders could also be triggered by biological issues related to appetite.
“Anorexia and bulimia are caused by combined effects of biological and environmental causes," said Fetissov.The social pressure surrounding weight creates enormous stress, particularly on young women, to start diets:“The restrictions involved have a direct influence on the biology of the intestine because the bacteria are put under a situation of stress, and therefore produce this protein that deregulates their appetite.
"The social factors would trigger the eating disorders, but the protein would be responsible for its persistence – it’s a viscious cycle,” he adds.
Now that the protein has been identified, does it mean that some kind of drug to neutralize it could be the long-awaited answer to eating disorders?
“An antibiotic would kill any bacteria without being able to target one kind, so the idea would be to find a selective antibiotic, which doesn’t really exist today, to reduce the production of the protein," he said.
The team's next step is to develop a blood test based to detect ClpB. “If we are successful in this, we will be able to establish specific and individualised treatments for eating disorders,” Fetissov said.