A Strange New Culprit Behind Eating Disorders

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From The Atlantic: “In a report about the patient, Carandang wrote that the boy appeared to have PANDAS, or pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infection, a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that sometimes comes on in children after a bout of strep throat. While PANDAS is a fairly well-established condition, it was unusual that the infection-induced psychological symptoms had brought about an eating disorder.

Other researchers have reported isolated cases of children developing eating disorders after coming down with infections. In the late 1990s, Mae Sokol, a psychiatry professor at Creighton University, described treating several patients whose eating disorders had begun after strep infections. One 12-year-old treated by Sokol lost 30 pounds after he suddenly became afraid to eat fats and liquids. He had experienced an untreated upper-respiratory-tract infection just a month before the symptoms began. A 16-year-old had a series of upper-respiratory-tract infections, then suddenly became concerned about weight gain and ‘dead animals on plates,’ according to Sokol’s report.

These cases hinted at a relationship between the infections and the subsequent disordered eating, but childhood infections are so common, and eating disorders so multifaceted, that scientifically connecting the two conditions has been hard. It seems so counterintuitive: Why would a sore throat lead to a state in which a person feels irrationally preoccupied with thinness? This year, though, a large study found that the boys Carandang and Sokol treated weren’t isolated incidents. Infections might, in fact, spark eating disorders in some people.”

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