Treating Eating Disorders Via Microbiota Transplant

Tobey Le


While it is difficult to obtain solid statistics regarding the prevalence of eating disorders (EDs), it is estimated that about 5 percent of women and about 2.5 percent of men in the United States suffer from one of these disorders [1]. One of the primary traits observed in those with EDs is difficulty in regulating emotions. These difficulties arise in large part due to a faulty amygdala [2, 3]. Given the general unknown nature of the field of emotions in neuroscience, treatment methods are, at times, ineffective. A potential treatment being studied involves supplementing the patient’s bacterial biome with gut microbiota specific to amygdala function.


Eating Disorders and Emotional Regulation

    Eating disorders are a range of mental disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, that are characterized by abnormal eating habits that adversely affect a person’s physical or mental health [10]. While it is difficult to prove, evidence suggests that individuals who suffer from eating disorders generally have great difficulty in balancing their emotions and maintaining healthy outlooks [5]. In lieu of traditional methods of emotion management, these individuals consequently develop EDs as maladaptive coping mechanisms [6]. In order to make significant headway on treatment or even curing of EDs, it is imperative that emotional regulation be taken into account.



Microbiota and the Amygdala

    In serious cases that warrant immediate and direct action, it is plausible to inject key microbiota into the gut of someone suffering from an ED through a fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). FMT is a process in which fecal matter from a donor is strained, mixed with saline solution, and injected into the patient, usually through a colonoscopy and similar procedures. Similar procedures have previously proven to be successful in curing ailments such as refractory Clostridium difficile infection and irritable bowel syndrome [7, 8]. In previous investigations on microbiota and emotional regulation, the analysis of germ-free mice revealed that large portions of microRNAs in their amygdalae and prefrontal cortices were dysregulated [9]. Consequently, certain microbiota have been concluded to be  critical for proper function of these brain regions.

    If a patient receives this procedure before the amygdala finishes the bulk of its development, an FMT from a donor with a healthy amygdala could have a major positive impact on brain function later in life. Those suffering from EDs and other anxiety-related disorders only begin to exhibit symptoms during childhood or later, meaning that FMT treatment could plausibly mitigate or even reverse the effects of an underdeveloped amygdala. If administered at the first sight of symptoms, an FMT could drastically reduce the severity of an ED.



  1. American Psychiatry Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington: American Psychiatric Publishing

  2. Hoban, Alan. Stilling, Roman. Moloney, Gerard. Moloney, Rachel. Shanahan, Fergus. Dinan, Timothy. Cryan, John. Gerard, Clarke. (25/08/2017). Microbial regulation of microRNA expression in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Microbiome. Retrieved: 26/11/2017.

  3. Abadi, Amin Talebi Bezmin. (06/11/2017). Fecal microbiota transplantation against irritable bowel syndrome? Rigorous randomized clinical trials are required. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Retrieved: 26/11/2017.

  4. Mallorquí-Bagué, Núria. Vintró-Alcaraz, Cristina. Sánchez, Isabel. Riesco Nadine. Agüera, Zaida. Granero, Roser. Jiménez-Múrcia, Susana. Menchón, José. Treasure, Janet. Fernández-Aranda, Fernando. (23/11/2017). Emotion Regulation as a Transdiagnostic Feature Among Eating Disorders: Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Approach. European Eating Disorders Review. Retrieved: 26/11/2017.

  5. No author. (24/06/2014). Know your brain: Amygdala. Neuroscientifically Challenged. Retrieved: 26/11/2017.

  6. Cowan, Caitlin. Hoban, Alan. Ventura-Silva, Ana Paula. Dinan, Timothy. Clarke, Gerard. Cryan, John. (17/11/2017). Gutsy Moves: The Amygdala as a Critical Node in Microbiota to Brain Signaling. BioEssays. Retrieved: 26/11/2017.

  7. Bang, Lasse. Rø, Øyvind. Endestad, Tor. (28/02/2016). Amygdala alterations during an emotional conflict task in women recovered from anorexia nervosa. Psychiatry Research. Retrieved: 26/11/2017.

  8. Insel, Thomas. (24/02/2012). Spotlight on Eating Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved: 26/11/2017.

Tobey Le

Tobey Le

Back-end Django developer. Freelance writer for the Journal of the IYNA. Wallpaper enthusiast.