Infection-induced anorexia: active host defence strategy

Appetite. 1997 Dec;29(3):369-83. doi: 10.1006/appe.1997.0116.


In association with fever production, decreased food consumption is the most common sign of infection. This effect is often regarded as an undesirable manifestation of sickness. However, evidence suggests that just as many behaviours have now been shown to modify immunocompetence, infection-induced anorexia is a behaviour systematically organised for pathogen elimination. That is, anorexia is an active defence mechanism that is beneficial for host defence. This review details the mechanism of infection-induced anorexia, placing it within the framework of the intricately organised acute phase response--the host response to infection. Furthermore, the evolutionary, behavioural, metabolic and immunological consequences of infection-induced anorexia are outlined, each providing evidence for the beneficial nature of this response. The evidence suggests that food restriction is one of the important behavioural strategies that organisms have evolved for the fight against pathogenic invasion. Nevertheless, such benefits require fine homeostatic control, as chronic undernutrition has deleterious consequences for host defence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute-Phase Reaction / etiology
  • Acute-Phase Reaction / immunology
  • Acute-Phase Reaction / physiopathology
  • Anorexia / etiology*
  • Anorexia / immunology
  • Anorexia / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Infections / complications*
  • Infections / immunology