The Link Between Eating Disorders and Autoimmune Disease

Contributor: Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 30 books.

Red heart in family hands on bright backgroundEating disorders rarely exist alone; many people suffering from eating disorders often struggle with other co-occurring issues. Some of these issues arise as unforeseen side effects of the eating disorders themselves, while other co-occurring issues actually contribute to the start of an eating disorder.

For example, research has recently uncovered a link between people with eating disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, and autoimmune disease.

What Happens When You Have an Autoimmune Disease?

Autoimmune diseases cause the immune system to have unnaturally low or high activity levels. In cases of low immune activity, a person is at a much higher risk for developing infection. In cases of immune over-activity, the body may begin to attack and damage its own tissues.

Examples of autoimmune diseases include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Type I diabetes
  • Psoriasis
  • Graves’ disease, among others

Various research have revealed a caustic relationship between immune function and mood disorders, specifically schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism spectrum disorders, and ADHD.

How Autoimmune Diseases Play a Role in Eating Disorders

red-head-767078_640The link between autoimmune disease and eating disorders is notable, and has also received recent research interest. A recent Finnish study2 published from Department of Public Health at the University of Helsinki, Finland, found that the immune system seems to play a significant role in the start and longevity of eating disorders. In fact, the research revealed that 8.9% of participants with eating disorders also had an autoimmune disease compared to 5.4% of healthy participants.

This research study tracked its participants over 16 years, which allowed researchers to diagnose the presence of an autoimmune disease prior to the onset of an eating disorder. The autoimmune diseases were also present at the end of eating disorder treatment. This sequence in diagnosis points to autoimmune disease as a possible contributor to eating disorders.

This research confirms that eating disorders are affected by more than just psychological triggers, and that for some people there is in fact a biological component to the onset and struggle with eating disorders. However, more research is needed to more fully understand the repercussions and potential solutions to this link between autoimmune disease and eating disorders.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease while struggling with disordered eating? How have the two affected each other, what advice do you have to share?

About the Author:

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.



The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 7th, 2015
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