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How do eating disorders affect bone health?

Eating disorders can result in low bone mineral density, or osteopenia, due to several factors. One cause is decreased estrogen and inadequate nutrition during adolescence when bone strength is increasing. The low energy state of the body and energy imbalance increases bone loss. This can lead to significant osteopenia after as little as six months. Decreased bone density is one of the three symptoms of the female athlete triad, which also includes eating disorders and loss of menstruation. A bone scan can be done to measure the amount of bone density lost.
Vicki Berkus, MD
Psychiatry

If patients are restricting food and compulsively exercising, the danger is the development of osteopenia and in severe cases-osteoporosis. We routinely perform bone density scans on all our patients and it is so sad to see a 15 yr old female with the bone structure of a 70 year old. The type of bone loss is different in a starving patient than a post-menopausal woman who is given medication. The  only cure for bone loss caused by starvation is re-feeding.

Karen Diaz
Nutrition & Dietetics
Due to improper nutrition, low body weight, low body fat, and/or irregular or ceased mentrual cycles, people who suffer with eating disorders are a risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis.  By not getting proper nutrients for bone health or carrying too low body weight or body fat, they can have low estrogen levels just like in menopause causing calcium to be taken from the bones.  Many clients think normal calcium levels means they are fine and are surprised to learn they have low bone density once they agree to get a bone scan completed.

If you have an eating disorder, you are at greater risk for getting osteoporosis, a serious bone disease. Anorexia nervosa or bulimia can lead to lower bone density. Lower bone density is a contributing factor to osteoporosis.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.