A study published in 2017, showed a link between celiac disease and anorexia nervosa, the most lethal condition out of all mental health disorders. Anorexia medical definition is defined as an eating disorder that is characterized by the intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, inability to maintain a minimally normal weight and extreme dietary habits that prevent weight gain. Before this study, there were many unproven theories that celiac disease is linked to an eating disorder. This study confirmed that celiac disease is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder in as high as 33 percent of individuals. Both illnesses are known to exacerbate each other, making symptomatology in both worse, and it also may be hard for clinical professionals and practitioners to distinguish between the two disorders due to the symptom vagueness. Over 18,000 women with celiac disease were studied and shown to have both celiac and anorexia before and after a celiac diagnosis. In previous studies, it has been suggested that celiac, which is food restrictive, such as celiac disease and food allergies, are associated with anorexia. It is believed that once a restrictive diet begins, it can trigger dysfunctional eating patterns. Individuals with food allergies and restrictive diets often portray rigorous habits such as checking food labels, reading the fine lines in food menus, and asking a laundry list of questions at restaurants. These behaviors are very detailed oriented and can seem a bit controlling; which are two characteristics of eating disorders. This rigorous behavior can often push the envelope into unhealthy eating behaviors.

Celiac disease vs. gluten sensitivity

Celiac disease is a chronic disorder of the digestion tract due to the inability to tolerate gliadin, the alcohol-soluble fraction of gluten. Gluten is a protein commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley. When an individual consumes gluten in the form of bread, soy sauce, beer or other gluten enriched foods, an immunologically mediated (your body attacks itself) inflammatory response occurs that damages the mucosa of the intestines, resulting in poor digestion and malabsorption of food nutrients. This results in extreme abdominal discomfort, bloating, weight loss, fatigue, and diarrhea. Skin rashes are also common in this disorder, and systemic effects such as anemia and nutrient depletion can occur since food nutrients cannot be absorbed into the gut. This specific diagnosis is confirmed via a blood test and a biopsy of the small intestine, which done via endoscopy. The treatment is a strict gluten-free diet.

Gluten sensitivity formally called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), is a very little studied and documented disorder that is contributing to the growing billion-dollar market for gluten-free diets and products. More than likely other disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) could be the culprit, however, our society markets NCGS for the sake of diet trends, not realizing this can lead to disordered eating behaviors such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia medical definition, signs, symptoms and diagnostic criteria

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by the intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, inability to maintain a minimally normal weight and extreme dietary habits that prevent weight gain. There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa known as the restricting type and the binge-eating/purging type. Most individuals associate anorexia with the restricting subtype, which is characterized by the severe limitation of food as the primary means to lose weight. The second subtype is known as binge-eating/purging subtype which is characterized by periods of binging followed by self-induced purging behaviors such as vomiting, diuretic abuse, laxative abuse or excessive exercise. The following are signs and symptoms associated with anorexia nervosa:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Dry skin
  • The appearance of fine, white body hair (lanugo)
  • Shrinkage of the breast (atrophy)
  • Missed menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
  • Thinning hair
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Bluish coloration of extremities (acrocyanosis)
  • Loose skin
  • Extremity swelling (edema)
  • Brittle nails
  • Constipation
  • Intolerance of cold temperatures
  • Fatigue
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness