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Anorexia & Bones

Effect of Anorexia on Bones & Skeleton

Just when they thought they had conquered their eating disorders, some young women are finding that their recovery came too late for their skeleton, and they are succumbing to fractures as a result of osteoporosis – or thin bones. Research underway at St George’s Hospital, London, is investigating how best to help women with anorexia increase their bone mass in order to protect them from osteoporosis in later life.

Anorexia Causes Thinning of Bones

‘We’ve known for some years that anorexia causes problems in the skeleton, mainly thinning of the bones, but we’re not sure whether those who recover from their anorexia can end up with normal bone density,’ explains Dr Jim Bolton, lecturer in psychiatry at St George’s Hospital.

He is following the progress of a group of women aged 15-46 years to see if their bones can make up for lost time before they reach the menopause, and he is testing whether hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can protect those with the lowest weight.

Anorexia, Menopause & Bones

After the menopause, when oestrogen levels fall, women’s bones tend to become thinner because the whole process of bone build-up and breakdown speeds up, and bone breaks down faster than it is built up. Taking HRT to replace the missing oestrogen helps to prevent excessive bone break-down.’In anorexia, there is less energy going into the system so the whole process of bone turnover slows down, especially bone formation. For most of these women, HRT may not be the answer because it slows down bone formation as well as destruction,’ he says.

Anorexia & Bones – Maintain Reasonable Weight

At present, the only way for women with eating disorders to protect themselves from osteoporosis is to try to maintain a reasonable weight during as many as possible of their teen years and twenties, when their bones reach their peak strength. If they delay their recovery beyond that time, it may be too late to build the bones they need to carry them into middle and old age.

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