Anorexia Damages Bones Equally In Men and Women
Anorexia is a serious health issue associated with numerous severe health complications, ranging from abnormal blood counts, fainting, seizures, and even complications with reproductive systems.
Another well-known consequence of anorexia is the effect it has on a person’s bones. This is because lack of nutrition robs the body of the badly needed calcium which plays an essential role in muscle movement, the transmission of nerve impulses, and many other processes constantly occurring within our bodies.
People with anorexia don’t provide their body with enough calcium so it is forced to steal from anywhere it can, including leeching calcium from bones making them weaker and more brittle. Eventually, this can develop into osteoporosis.
This process has been well-documented in women with anorexia. However, less attention has been paid to how anorexia-related calcium deficiency impacts men. While people often think of anorexia as a “girl problem” because women make up the majority of cases, a significant number of men are also affected by eating disorders throughout their lives and little research has been done into whether the disorder affects them in unique ways.
This is starting to change, however. Researchers from Stanford recently investigated whether anorexia nervosa could affect men’s’ bones differently, as males typically have larger bones than girls. Additionally, hormones like estrogen and testosterone have a notable influence on bone growth and health which could lead to changes in how anorexia affects their bones.
According to the report published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, however, there is little difference between genders when it comes to eating disorders and bone health.
The team of researchers compared bone mineral density measurements taken through DXA bone scans of 25 boys with 253 girls who received treatment through the Comprehensive Eating Disorders Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Sanford between March 1997 and 2001. The majority of patients included were between 14 and 17 years old and had only been struggling with the disorder for months rather than years.
Contrary to what you might expect, the researchers found no differences in bone mineral density between the boys and girls included in the study, after adjusting for factors like body mass index, age, and duration of illness.
The findings showed that while gender had little to no influence on bone health, malnutrition was the main factor affecting bone density. No matter the gender of the patient, they were more likely to have abnormally low bone density the more malnourished they were.
“Since degree of malnutrition was the most significant predictor of bone deficits at all sites, clinicians may consider a DXA scan to evaluate for low bone mineral density and potential increased fracture risk in the most severely malnourished patients with anorexia nervosa,” the researchers write in their paper. “In addition … restoration of weight may be essential to improve bone density.”
While it is very likely eating disorders may affect members of the two sexes differently in other ways, the findings of this study suggest bone density is not one of them.