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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Hormones May Protect Against Bone Loss in Women with Eating Disorders / July 13, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Hormones May Protect Against Bone Loss in Women with Eating Disorders

By Jill Lee
July 13, 1998

Physicians helping women and girls overcome severe eating disorders know that one of the associated risks is bone mineral loss. New evidence suggests that estrogen and progestin hormones may help protect their bones during treatment.

Why worry about bone loss in young women and girls? Eating disorders or excessive exercising may stop their menstrual periods. If this condition persists for 6 months or longer, the young woman needs to see a physician to rule out other medical problems.

If those are ruled out, physicians call the condition hypothalamic amenorrhea. It's not serious, but the natural menstrual cycle circulates hormones that play a role in maintaining strong bones. Stopping this cycle can be especially risky for teenage girls whose bones are still developing, because the risk of osteoporosis later in life is increased.

However, in a new study, under the direction of Albert C. Hergenroeder, MD, of Baylor College of Medicine, in collaboration with Kenneth J. Ellis, PhD, of the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston Texas, twenty-four 14 to 28 year old women with hypothalamic amenorrhea were treated with estrogen and progestin.

The scientists found women treated with these hormones improved their spines and total skeletons as compared to control group. The researchers believe that the treatment mimics the hormonal activity of the normal menstrual cycle and helps protect from bone mineral loss until other medical care can restore the patients' general health—and natural menstrual cycle.

This research was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Since the number of women studied was very small, further research is needed. But if the results prove consistent, physicians will have a new path to explore in treating bone loss for the five to ten percent of American women and girls who suffer from eating disorders.

Scientific contact: Albert C. Hergenroeder, MD, [ (713) 770-3658 or] Dept. Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, or Kenneth J. Ellis, PhD, [(713) 798-7025 or] USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center, Houston,Texas.

Last Modified: 5/16/2014
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