What You Need to Know About Anorexia-Associated Bone Loss
Bone loss is a well-established consequence of anorexia. Recent studies suggest that not only is osteopenia (a decrease in bone mass) common, but that it occurs early in the course of the disease. Key studies have found significant decreases in bone density in adolescents with anorexia. For example, affected teens have been shown to have spinal density 25 percent below that of healthy teens. Up to two-thirds of teens with the disorder have bone density values more than two standard deviations below the norm.
Studies also suggest that half of peak bone density is achieved in adolescence. Anorexia typically develops between mid- to late adolescence, a critical period for bone accretion. Affected teens experience decreases in bone density at a time when bone formation should be occurring. Research has shown that girls with anorexia are less likely to reach their peak bone density and are at an increased risk for osteoporosis and bone fracture throughout life.
The longer a person has anorexia nervosa, the less likely it is that bone mineral density will return to normal. While the possibility for complete recovery of normal bone mineral density is low, weight gain and the resumption of menses increase the likelihood that some gains in bone density will occur. Unfortunately, a significant number of girls and young women will suffer a permanent reduction in bone density, which places them at risk for osteoporosis and bone fracture throughout their lifetime.
According to the American Anorexia Bulimia Association, approximately 10 percent of eating disorder sufferers are male. While men are much less commonly affected by anorexia than women, research suggests that male victims also experience significant bone loss. A recent study at the University of Iowa found substantial decreases in spinal bone mineral density in college men with anorexia. Researchers speculated that weight loss, restricted dietary input, and testosterone deficiency may be responsible for the low bone density found in men with the disorder.