FeaturesAug/Sep 2012 Issue

Celiac Disease and Eating Disorders

Linked Conditions


Beth isn’t alone in dealing with an eating disorder and celiac disease. There’s plenty of company online in celiac and gluten-free forums. Many describe similar stories of celiac symptoms (such as extreme bloating) leading them to restrict or even stop eating altogether for days at a time. Others describe throwing up to relieve discomfort after eating, setting the stage for bulimia. Some wonder about a gut-brain connection and how it could play a role in celiac disease and eating disorders.

Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, a nutrition therapist, has treated people with eating disorders since 1984. When her son was diagnosed with celiac disease as a toddler in 1996, she began to specialize in celiac disease, too.

“I’m seeing two things happen right now,” she says. “I’m seeing more patients who have both celiac disease and an eating disorder and, secondly, I’m seeing more in the medical literature documenting a link between the two.”

In 2007, researchers at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston explored ten cases of eating disorders among their patients, noting an “association” between celiac disease and eating disorders. The following year, researchers in Austria looked at a much larger group of adolescents with celiac disease and found the rate of eating disorders was double that of adolescent girls without celiac disease (no males in the study had eating disorders).

“Based on what we have, we can say that eating disorders can be a significant comorbid [co-occurring] condition in patients with celiac disease,” says Melinda Dennis, MS, RD, LDN, nutrition coordinator of the Celiac Center at BIDMC. “In addition, there’s a well-established link between celiac disease and psychiatric disorders that frequently coexist with eating disorders, including major depression, anxiety and panic disorder.”

Earlier this year, a web-based survey looked at the “psychiatric functioning” of 177 American women with celiac disease and found over a third reported symptoms suggestive of depression and 22 percent reported patterns of disordered eating.

“Although some women reported just depression and some just disordered eating, many—17 percent—had both,” says lead author Danielle Arigo, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Syracuse University.


Next: Not a Choice

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