Eating Disorders and Health Risks

Eating Disorders

There are many health risks that friends of people with eating disorders often lose sight of. It is natural for a person with a friend who is suffering from an eating disorder to stand silent, but this action could risk the life and future of a person who has extremely unhealthy eating habits. In this article, eating disorders are referring to only anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa. Both of these cause the patient to lose weight. Anorexia is diagnosed by refusal to eat, and food avoiding behaviors. Bulimia is categorized by a presence of bingeing and purging rituals. People suffering from bulimia will gorge themselves on large meals, only to force it from their body in one way or the other. The dangers can show up in any system of the body, affecting hormones, development, the reproductive and circulatory systems, and even weaken bones to the point that they are brittle and at a high risk of breaking.

Most of these disorders originate from a patients loss of control, or feeling that they have no control over their life. They can take control of their food. For some, eating disorders can have to do with an unhealthy desire to be thin. This feeling can often be intensified by cultural media, and be detrimental to the full recovery of the patient.

The first body part to be affected is often the bones. Because the disorder often surfaces when young people are putting on the most important weight of their life, they are interrupting that by not consuming enough nutrients for their body to correctly develop. Young people should be eating a wide range of foods to build up more bone mass to last them through adulthood, as this is the only time the body will take to build up bone mass. Instead, these patients are withholding nutrients from their bones. This causes their bones to not be as strong as they should be, and often lead to osteoporosis, broken bones, and other bone related complications.

The next victim of suppressed eating habits is often the heart. This organ is connected to just about every function in the human body. The patient of an eating disorder loses muscle mass quickly within the first few months of that disorder. The heart also loses muscle along with the arms and legs. This causes circulation problems throughout the body, causing functions of other organs to slow as well. The heart can become so weak that is can not keep blood pressure high, especially when the patient is exercising. Damage to the heart is the number one reason people with anorexia end up in the hospital.

A very dangerous reality for women suffering with eating disorders (specifically for women who want to be thinner) is amenorrhea. This is the absence of the period. This happens on two occasions for healthy women, when they are pregnant and nursing, and after they reach menopause. Women whose bodies do not contain enough nutrients will start to shut down. Hypothalamic, or exercise, amenorrhea is the type of amenorrhea that affects women with eating disorders. Certain endocrine glands will start to pump out too much, or not enough of certain hormones. This unhealthy balance of hormones acts as a safety power house. This shuts down parts of the body that are not deemed as important functions for the body. This allows the body to use important energy elsewhere, such as the heart or lungs. Amenorrhea is a dangerous sign that people with eating disorders are facing serious health risks, and their bodies are shutting down.

By Joshua Shane

Web MD
Mayo Clinic
The American Journal of Psychiatry