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Autoimmune Anorexia

By Josie GlausiuszApril 1, 2003 6:00 AM


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Anorexia nervosa and bulimia may be biological as well as psychological. A new study suggests these disorders could occur when the immune system attacks appetite-controlling molecules in the brain. The finding opens the possibility of pharmaceutical treatment. Sergueï Fetissov and his colleagues at Sweden's Karolinska Institute in Stockholm took blood samples from 57 women diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia, or both. Seventy-four percent of the patients carried antibodies against alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone, which helps regulate metabolism and appetite. Twenty percent of the patients also had antibodies against adrenocorticotropic hormone, which plays a role in stress regulation. The antibodies would tend to neutralize those hormones. Only 16 percent of women in a control group had these antibodies. But Fetissov cannot yet determine whether the antibodies cause anorexia or result from it. "It could be that stress is the first reason for their appearance," he says.

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