Eating disorders (EDs), including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, are complex and often misunderstood conditions, intertwined with both mental and physical health1. Despite their prevalence, treating and fully understanding these disorders is challenging. Recent research exploring the interactions between the brain and the gut presents new possibilities for understanding and addressing EDs. 

In the brain, there are tiny signaling chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that are crucial for mood and behavior regulation, including dietary behavior regulation1. A large portion of these chemicals are interestingly produced in the gut by trillions of bacteria, referred to as the gut microbiota1. Specifically, serotonin, a neurotransmitter commonly produced by the gut microbiota, is involved in the communication about satiety. Through the production of this chemical and others like it, the gut microbiota has the ability to influence hunger, fullness and other food related sensations and behaviors3

Providing evidence for this idea, studies have shown that individuals with EDs have gut microbiota that differ significantly from those without these disorders. For example, one study found that those with anorexia nervosa have significantly fewer gut bacteria involved in serotonin production1. Another study found that in those with binge eating disorder, there were significantly fewer bacteria involved in short-chain fatty acid production (chemicals that are also important in satiety regulation)1. Therefore, the differences in gut bacteria seen in people with eating disorders might be key to understanding and better treating these conditions. 

Building on this evidence, adjusting the gut microbiota emerges as a promising strategy for potentially treating eating disorders (EDs). One method of manipulating the gut microbiota is through probiotics1. These live bacteria, when ingested, help promote health and restore the gut microbiota to its normal state1. Probiotics can be taken as a supplement, and they are also found in many fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, and buttermilk3. To explore the potential effects of probiotics, one review examined studies on their impact on stress and anxiety, which are notably more prevalent in individuals with EDs1. One study found that one particular probiotic helps reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety1. Another study found that ingesting probiotic yogurt significantly improved stress and anxiety scores1.  

Although research in this area is still in its early stages, the initial findings are promising. Understanding the connection between eating disorders, gut microbiota, and neurotransmitters is very important. It holds potential for groundbreaking advancements in both diagnosis and treatment, paving the way for novel therapeutic approaches that address both the mental and physical aspects of eating disorders.  

Citations: 

1. Navarro-Tapia, E., Almeida-Toledano, L., Sebastiani, G., Serra-Delgado, M., García-Algar, Ó., & Andreu-Fernández, V. (2021). Effects of microbiota imbalance in anxiety and eating disorders: probiotics as novel therapeutic approaches. International journal of molecular sciences, 22(5), 2351. 

2. Palsdottir, H. (2023, July 3). 11 probiotic foods that are Super Healthy. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-super-healthy-probiotic-foods#yogurt 

3. Terry, S. M., Barnett, J. A., & Gibson, D. L. (2022). A critical analysis of eating disorders and the gut microbiome. Journal of eating disorders, 10(1), 154. 

By Trilla Teague  

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