Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by many disturbing symptoms and side effects, but one of the most insidious and unrecognized is osteoporosis. Bones deprived of their necessary nutrients will begin to wither away until they are easily fractured or cannot support your weight. Even after you have overcome your anorexia nervosa, you may still be at risk for developing osteoporosis in the future. Regular bone density exams and preventative measures can, however, keep this dreaded condition at bay and leave your bones as strong and healthy as possible.
Understanding Your Risk for Osteoporosis
When you are anorexic, your body is essentially in the throes of starvation, and it adjusts its chemistry and structure accordingly to survive. Nutrients that would normally be used to build your bones are instead used to supply cells with energy. Your brain stops producing hormones responsible for growth and restoration in favor of generating steroids to keep you on your feet. The longer this continues, the more damage the bones will incur, but even brief periods of anorexia can trigger osteoporosis later on.
Providing Nutrients For Your Bones
Once you have treated your anorexia and are capable of eating a rich diet, your doctor will likely recommend that you consume high levels of calcium and vitamin D to help feed your bones. Foods like spinach and dairy products are particularly useful in this effort. Unless you are a teenager or young adult, this may not be able to add any additional mass to your bones, but it can at least slow down the natural deterioration that occurs with age.
Supplementing and Balancing Hormones
You should visit your doctor periodically for a bone density scan, which will monitor your bones' status and allow you to take action quickly if osteoporosis sets in. Your doctor may also check your hormone levels to be sure that they have recovered and are acting normally. Medication may be necessary to suppress natural steroids and encourage bone-building hormones for a significant period of time after treatment.
Regulating Activity Levels
Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa are often also accompanied by exercise disorders, typically exercising to excess. Moderate exercise is a healthy way to strengthen your bones and ward off osteoporosis, but too much can do more harm than good. Talk to your doctor about your fitness regimen and then stick within the limitations you set in order to avoid any unexpected fractures or trauma to your bones. With perseverance and regular check-ups, you should be able to maintain the structural integrity of your bones and stay on your feet for many decades to come, despite the damage of anorexia.
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