Gut microbes may antagonize or assist in anorexia

January 12, 2021

You are likely familiar with the serious consequences of anorexia for those who experience it, but you might not be aware that the disorder may not be purely psychological. A recent review from researchers at the University of Oxford in the open-access journal examines the evidence that gut microbes could play a significant role in anorexia by affecting appetite, weight, and psychiatric issues such as anxiety and compulsive behavior, among others. Intriguingly, the study also examines the potential for microbial treatments for anorexia, but highlights that we are just beginning to understand the complex relationship between gut microbes and disease.

"Anorexia nervosa is a very common psychiatric disorder and can be incredibly debilitating or even fatal, but is unfortunately still quite challenging to treat," explained Ana Ghenciulescu, lead author of the review. "Moreover, there has been a great deal of recent excitement about the idea that gut microbes affect many aspects of our health, including our mental health - and that this relationship goes both ways."

Recent research has examined these questions in the context of anorexia, and Ghenciulescu and colleagues combed the literature to summarize these findings. "In anorexia, microbial communities seem to be less diverse and more abundant in 'harmful' species," said Dr Phil Burnet, the senior researcher on the review.

For instance, previous research has shown that anorexia patients may have more bacteria that digest the protective mucus layer of the gut, making the gut 'leaky' and contributing to chronic inflammation, which is associated with psychiatric symptoms. Other microbes found in anorexia may affect appetite and energy metabolism, both of which can contribute to anorexia.

However, it is difficult to tell whether the microbial imbalance in anorexia patients contributes to the disease, or whether it is simply an effect of their dramatically restricted diet. This chicken and egg situation is a puzzle, but studies in mice may shed some light on the situation. While the experiments may seem a little strange, as they rely on the most readily available source of gut microbes, feces, the results are compelling.

"In a mouse study, researchers transferred fecal samples from anorexia patients to the guts of mice with no microbiome of their own," said Ghenciulescu. "Such mice gained less weight and developed more anxious and compulsive behaviors compared with mice who received feces from healthy patients. This suggests that their altered gut bacteria might be contributing to similar symptoms in anorexia patients as well."

While these results are preliminary, they hint at the intriguing possibility that targeting the microbiome could be a viable treatment for anorexia. Promoting and maintaining a better microbial balance may help to reduce some of the symptoms of anorexia.

So, what might such treatments look like? It could as simple as taking probiotic supplements, or may involve fecal transplants. However, the review highlights that our understanding of the relationship between gut microbes and anorexia is very much in its infancy. "There is still no consensus over what a 'healthy' microbiome profile looks like, and the optimal composition is probably different for each person," said Burnet. "Much more work needs to be done to understand the rich and highly complex microbial ecosystem within our gut."
-end-


Frontiers

Related Aware Articles from Brightsurf:

Trench fever in urban people who are homeless
A disease common during the First World War, trench fever, has been found in some urban populations experiencing homelessness in Canada, and physicians should be aware of this potentially fatal disease, highlights a practice article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

1 in 3 who are aware of deepfakes say they have inadvertently shared them on social media
An NTU Singapore study has found that one in three Singaporeans who said they were aware of deepfakes believe they have circulated deepfake content on social media which they later found out was a hoax.

Are bushmeat hunters aware of zoonotic disease? Yes, but that's not the issue
A recent paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, outlines how researchers with the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, measured the attitudes, practices and zoonoses awareness among community members associated with the bushmeat trade in northern Uganda.

Parents less aware when their kids vape than when they smoke
Most parents know or suspect when their child smokes, but they are much more likely to be in the dark if the child vapes or uses other tobacco products, according to a large national study by researchers at UC San Francisco.

New model explains when the brain becomes aware of information
EPFL scientists propose that periods of unconscious processing--during which the brain integrates information--precede brief moments of consciousness

What information is coded in bird alarm calls -- a new study from Korea
Recordings of the Oriental tit's alarm responses showed that alarm calls to snakes have special acoustic properties different from calls to chipmunks, even though both predators can enter bird's nests and destroy broods.

Grasshoppers are perfectly aware of their own coloration when trying to camouflage
A research team from the Pablo de Olavide University of Seville, led by Pim Edelaar, has carried out an experimental study that shows that grasshoppers are perfectly aware of their own colouration when choosing the place that provides them with better camouflage.

Be aware of potential complications following tongue-tie surgery in babies
Complications following a procedure to treat tongue-tie in babies are occurring that can result in admission to hospital, something a University of Otago paediatrician says needs to be better understood by both health practitioners and parents.

Examination of conscience on the role of engineering in sustainable development
In a study conducted by 3 engineers, Josep Maria Basart (UAB), Mireia Farrús (UPF) and Montse Serra (UOC) presented in an article published in September in the journal IEEE Technology and Society Magazine.

Start-ups must be aware of star employee pitfalls
The presence of both a star inventor and founder within a company has a positive effect on the firm's performance, but when you have both of them together on a team, the outcomes can become diminished.

Read More: Aware News and Aware Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.