Women's Health

Study Finds Link Between Celiac Disease and Anorexia in Women

Study Finds Link Between Celiac Disease and Anorexia in Women

A recent study has found that celiac disease and anorexia are often linked and shared similar symptoms, in more than a few ways.

The similarities between these conditions are physical in appearance, making it difficult to discern without medical consolation. To an untrained professional, anorexia looks pretty straightforward in diagnosis. However, an amateur speculation is extremely unsafe for obvious reasons, such as inaccurate readings and diagnosing the wrong condition.

A group of researchers in a recent study “reviewed data from the medical records of about 18,000 girls and women of all ages who lived in Sweden in 1987 or later and who had been diagnosed with celiac disease and had undergone a biopsy of their small intestine to confirm this diagnosis between 1969 and 2008. The analysis also looked at a comparison group of about 89,000 Swedish women of similar ages.”

A study this large is bound to yield some incredible results, making this study an accurate assessment of the situation as a whole. For example, the “previous research has suggested a connection between celiac disease and anorexia, but most of the evidence for this association has come from individual case reports and not from population-based studies.”

Eating disorders are common among humans, but most of these disorders are not associated with a medical condition.

Both anorexia and celiac disease are serious in the sense of how an individual can lose their life over illnesses such as these. To expand on that note, both conditions need to be understood and recognized by the public.

Understanding anorexia

Anorexia nervosa is one of the most, if not the most recognizable eating disorder circulating throughout society. By definition, “anorexia nervosa involves an extreme obsession with limiting food intake and weight that can end up taking over a person's life. It is defined as a perceived intense need to drastically limit food intake to produce weight loss.” Dieting and exercise would be considered the normal forms of treating an overweight disposition, but anorexia nervosa takes this issue to the next level.

Due to the body images put in place and the external influences brought on by others, anorexia nervosa grows more serious in each instance. Furthermore, “people with anorexia nervosa have an intense fear of gaining weight, and they may have an abnormally low body weight.”

Anorexia nervosa is slightly different from other eating disorders as it causes another condition known as “body dysmorphia.” This compound condition disturbs the mindset of an individual with anorexia, causing a victim of this condition to believe in a false body image. For an anorexia nervosa patient, this body image manifests itself in the form of compulsive starvation.

To explain this situation further, “people with anorexia are looking for a way to cope with emotional problems, so they try to find something in their life they can control. Food is something that is a constant in a person's life, so it can be controlled.”

Control over one’s life is very important to anyone, making anorexia nervosa tempting in some form or fashion. However, other diseases are not always mental, but in fact physical. Despite this, celiac disease is still strongly compared to anorexia nervosa, so the condition of celiac disease must be understood as well.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is incredibly common in North America as well as most of the world. This medical condition is not inherently mental, as a result of its harmful physical properties. The organs and dietary structures of the body prevent an individual from performing their normal functions. Overall, celiac disease is a condition in which an individual is unable to digest or properly consume yeast related gluten products.

On another note, “the percentage of Americans who follow a gluten-free diet is more than three times higher than the percentage of Americans with celiac disease, the main medical reason the diet is recommended, a new estimate suggests.”

The most efficient method for avoiding the harmful aspects of celiac disease would be to avoid gluten entirely. Initially, this may seem like a challenging task, yet one’s health is much more important than the non-nutritious foods they consume. Recent studies have shown that “the average age of the women at the time they were diagnosed with celiac disease was 28, according to the findings.”

To reiterate on what this condition does to the human body, “people with celiac disease have an immune system response in the small intestine whenever they eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Over time, this immune reaction can damage the small intestine's lining.”

This damaging effect can cause an individual to eat less as either a conscious decision and’or a subconscious mental decision. Normally, either of these choices results in a period of dramatic weight loss and bodily discomfort. Weight loss would appear to be the fundamental link between anorexia nervosa and celiac disease. However, the link between these two dietary related conditions is more complex than their physical traits.

What is the link?

As far as weight loss goes, a health condition or a disease can cause some considerable weight loss. However, this is not an uncommon occurrence in the medical world. This creates room for other questions concerning the link between anorexia nervosa and celiac disease.

Anorexia nervosa is a condition that is developed mentally, as opposed to it having a genetic factor. On the other hand, celiac disease is specifically a genetic disorder, meaning that it has been passed down through one’s DNA in the form of a trait.  Individuals with celiac disease are more likely to develop anorexia simply for eating less food, as opposed to eating healthier foods.

After surviving an eating disorder, the body will go through several changes, and many of these changes will be damaging. Celiac disease is genetic and is triggered by the consumption of gluten. Furthermore, “women who were diagnosed with celiac disease before the age of 19, were 4.5 times more likely to have been previously diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, compared with women who didn't have celiac disease.”

Young women are more inclined to fall under the issues of anorexia nervosa, and celiac disease acts as more of a catalyst than a cause for the condition. Celiac disease is painful in nature and causes the patients to want to eat less. The link between anorexia nervosa and celiac disease exists because an individual is doing their best not to experience pain.

Overall, the link between anorexia nervosa and celiac disease is still open for debate. In fact, this link is not definitive, but only an incredibly strong correlation between two similar conditions. On that point, “one explanation may be that people with celiac disease or anorexia may be misdiagnosed with the other condition, which would result in a delay of appropriate treatment.” Delayed treatment will usually result in some harmful effects of a condition coming to life. As explained before, “scientists don't really know the exact biological explanation for why celiac disease and anorexia might be linked.”

The explanation may not be biological at all, but this is more unlikely than there not being a link between celiac disease and anorexia nervosa. However, both of these conditions can either be treated or avoided if the right amount of care is taken. On a final note, “women ages 20 and older had almost twice the risk of developing anorexia nervosa after receiving an initial diagnosis of celiac disease, compared with women who didn't have celiac disease.”

The condition of celiac disease is incredibly uncomfortable, and some individuals feel that it would be easier to avoid eating entirely than to eat healthy foods. Whether or not there is a link between these two conditions, quality health and a proper diet are necessary for survival and a good body image.