Wednesday, October 21, 2009

H1N1 and Eating Disorders: Does Your Eating Disorder Make the Swine Flu More Likely for You?

The 2009 novel H1N1 (swine flu) virus has raised concerns around the world. We know that nutrition can be a big part of helping the immune system function, and a healthy immune system is more able to defend against infection. So, if you have poor nutrition due to an eating disorder, are you at greater risk of catching H1N1?

H1N1 and Eating Disorders: Resilient Immunity

There is debate about how your eating disorder might be affecting your immune system and, therefore, your likelihood of catching the H1N1 virus. Levels of certain infection-fighting cells drop in people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. But research seems to show that those with eating disorders are not significantly more vulnerable to infectious disease. This is surprising, since those who experience starvation against their will do become more vulnerable to infectious disease.

If you have anorexia nervosa, some researchers note, you've probably chosen to cut out fats and carbohydrates first. These researchers hypothesize that this selective restriction somehow allows the immune system to continue to maintain a higher level of protection than those who are simply starving.

If you have bulimia nervosa, you will have nutritional deficits from missing out on many of the nutrients you need. Plus, consistent vomiting can compromise the immune system. However, just as in anorexia, there seems to be little evidence of increased infection in those with bulimia.

Will Heavy Exercise Make H1N1 More Likely for You?

Exercise is another factor that affects your immune system. Moderate amounts help it, and extreme amounts -- the kind of exercise many with eating disorders perform -- can weaken it. If you exercise intensely as a way of trying to burn calories or to work off episodes of binge eating, you could be giving your immune system an extra challenge -- and giving H1N1 a greater chance of affecting you.

But again, there appears to be little research on differences in immunity between those with eating disorders who exercise excessively and those with eating disorders who don't. So, it seems premature to say that heavy exercise will make you more likely to contract the H1N1 virus if you have an eating disorder.

Your Vulnerability to H1N1 May Be Driven by Other Factors

Although your immune system may not be compromised directly if you have an eating disorder, that doesn't mean that you won't get the swine flu. You're probably as likely as anyone to contract the virus, and you may be at even higher risk if you're of school or college age (simply because you're around more people). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have suggestions for how to deal with H1N1 in schools.

1 comment:

  1. Happy Holidays! My name is Lisa Hope and I am the assistant editor of I am contacting you today in hopes of developing a strategic partnership with your website; we have seen your site and think your content is great. is an online gateway for people to find information regarding disorder diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment -- and is continually adding content. More specifically, is starting a campaign to promote awareness about eating disorders of all types. If you're interested in a partnership, please contact me at