Anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and other eating disorders affect nearly one percent of college aged women in this country. Anorexia has the distinction of being the deadliest mental disorder that a person can be diagnosed with. The risk of dying from anorexia is almost four times that of someone suffering from major depression, and it’s even worse for those who are first diagnosed in their 20s. They face a fatality rate of nearly 18 times that of healthy people their age, according to experts. For every 1,000 anorexics, 5 will die from their disease every single year.
Bulimics don’t fare much better. Studies have found that individuals with bulimia or “eating disorder not otherwise specified” (known as EDNOS, a common diagnosis for individuals with a mixture of atypical anorexia and bulimia) also suffer higher than average risk of death than people their age without an eating disorder.
While eating disorders like anorexia are most common in women, an increasing number of men are being treated for eating disorders. It is now estimated that between 10 and 15 percent of anorexics and bulimics are men, and this number is even higher among homosexual men. Experts estimate that one in five gay men demonstrate unhealthy eating habits in an attempt to control their weight.
Sadly, men are even less likely than women to receive treatment for an eating disorder due to society’s perception of eating disorders being a feminine issue.
Long-term Risks from Eating Disorders
Death isn’t the only thing that someone with an eating disorder has to contend with. Long-term damage to the body can result after only a few months of anorexia. In particular, bone loss is a significant problem among anorexic women; more than half of anorexics in a bone density study displayed a bone density more than twice those of individuals without anorexia, which increases the risk of fractures.
The young age and rapidity of bone loss in anorexics is striking. Bone loss is frequently detected after just six months of the onset of anorexia nervosa, which leads to greater than average amounts of compression fractures and spinal deformity. While the long term consequences of bone loss associated with anorexia onset in young people isn’t completely known, experts say that residual effects remain even after anorexics gain weight.
Trying to Save the Bones
There are several different factors that may contribute to bone loss in anorexia, including malnutrition as well as estrogen deficiency. Because many anorexic women stop having their periods normally, it’s been suggested that estrogen therapy may be of use in protecting bones, but this treatment method is usually ineffective, due to the extreme physical activity and vitamin D deficit that many anorexics display.
Eating disorders in general and anorexia in particular are extremely dangerous over both the short and long term. Even years after successful treatment, an individual suffering from an eating disorder can be plagued with bone issues. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s crucial that you seek out professional help. Only 10 percent of individuals receive any sort of treatment; a tragic figure for what is too-often a fatal disease.
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