Does Anorexia Cause Osteoporosis?
Anorexia nervosa has significant physical consequences. Affected individuals can experience nutritional and hormonal problems that negatively affect bone density. Low body weight in females causes the body to stop producing estrogen, resulting in a condition known as amenorrhea, or absent menstrual periods. Low estrogen levels contribute to significant losses in bone density.
In addition, individuals with anorexia often produce excessive amounts of the adrenal hormone cortisol, which is known to trigger bone loss. Other problems -- such as decreased production of growth hormone and other growth factors, low body weight, calcium deficiency, and malnutrition -- contribute to bone loss in girls and women with anorexia. Weight loss, restricted dietary intake, and testosterone deficiency may be responsible for the low bone density found in males with the disorder.
Studies suggest that low bone mass (osteopenia) is common in people with anorexia and that it occurs early in the course of the disease. Girls with anorexia are less likely to reach their peak bone density and therefore may be at an increased risk for osteoporosis and fracture throughout life.
Up to one third of peak bone density is achieved during puberty. Anorexia is typically identified during mid- to late adolescence, a critical period for bone development. The longer a person has the condition, the greater the bone loss and the less likely it is that bone mineral density will ever return to normal.
The primary goal of medical therapy for individuals with anorexia is weight gain and, in females, the return of normal menstrual periods. However, attention to other aspects of bone health is also important, including:
- Healthy lifestyle
- Certain tests
A well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is important for healthy bones. Good sources of calcium include:
- Low-fat dairy products
- Dark green, leafy vegetables
- Calcium-fortified foods and beverages.
Also, supplements can help ensure that the calcium requirement is met each day.
Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption and bone health. It is synthesized in the skin through exposure to sunlight. Individuals may require vitamin D supplements in order to ensure an adequate daily intake.