Intestinal Bacteria May Play A Role in Anorexia Nervosa

Dr. Ian Carroll, PhD Professor of medicine UNC Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Interview with:
Dr. Ian Carroll, PhD
Professor of medicine
UNC Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Disease 

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Carroll: Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a severe psychiatric disorder characterized by extreme weight dysregulation and presents with high rates of comorbid anxiety.Anorexia nervosa carries the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric illnesses and relapse is frequent. Although a prime contributor, genetic factors do not fully account for the etiology ofAnorexia nervosa, and non-genetic factors that contribute to the onset and persistence of this disease warrant investigation. Compelling evidence that the intestinal microbiota regulates adiposity and metabolism, and more recently, anxiety behavior, provides a strong rationale for exploring the role of this complex microbial community in the onset, maintenance of, and recovery from Anorexia nervosa. Our study provides evidence of an intestinal dysbiosis in AN and an association between mood and the enteric microbiota in this patient population.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Carroll: Currently available treatments for Anorexia nervosa  are suboptimal. In addition, the process of weight gain and renourishment can be extremely uncomfortable for patients. Often, patients are discharged from the hospital and within months and sometimes weeks, find themselves losing weight again and facing readmission. If targeting the intestinal microbiota in patients with Anorexia nervosa could make renourishment less uncomfortable, help patients regulate their weight, and positively affect behavior, then there is the potential for fewer readmissions and more cures.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Carroll: Although genetic and neurobiological research underscores that Anorexia nervosa is most accurately considered a biologically based mental illness, the neurobiology of  Anorexia nervosa remains an enigma, which has hindered the development of novel, safe, and effective treatments. Our findings are an important first step in uncovering the role of the intestinal microbiota in AN. Future mechanistic studies examining the impact of specific taxa on behavior and adiposity, including transplantation of the intestinal microbiota of patients with AN into gnotobiotic mice, will allow us to distinguish between microbial markers of renourishment and recovery from psychopathology and move us even closer to designing innovative therapies for AN targeting enteric microorganisms.


Susan C. Kleiman, Hunna J. Watson, Emily C. Bulik-Sullivan, Eun Young Huh, Lisa M. Tarantino, Cynthia M. Bulik, Ian M. Carroll. The Intestinal Microbiota in Acute Anorexia Nervosa and During Renourishment.Psychosomatic Medicine, 2015; 1 DOI: 1097/PSY.0000000000000247

[wysija_form id=”5″] is not a forum for the exchange of personal medical information, advice or the promotion of self-destructive behavior (e.g., eating disorders, suicide). While you may freely discuss your troubles, you should not look to the Website for information or advice on such topics. Instead, we recommend that you talk in person with a trusted medical professional.

The information on is provided for educational purposes only, and is in no way intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any medical or other condition. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health and ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. In addition to all other limitations and disclaimers in this agreement, service provider and its third party providers disclaim any liability or loss in connection with the content provided on this website.

Dr. Ian Carroll, PhD (2015). Intestinal Bacteria May Play A Role in Anorexia Nervosa 

Last Updated on October 6, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD