Will having an eating disorder affect my hormones?Endocrinology Mental Health
Hi, I would like to know if having a eating disorder can affect my hormones, and what I can do about it? Thank you!
Eating disorders can involve a restrictive pattern where there’s dieting and excessive exercise, or a binge eating pattern which involves binge eating and purging.
Most women with eating disorders have a low body weight and in extreme cases, the body mass index can be as low as 15kg/m2 or lower.
So how does this affect our hormones?
Your brain perceives this as starvation, and your body then adapts to divert the limited resources to the most essential organs, protecting your heart/brain etc and “switches off” your menstrual periods.
This usually happens after the weight loss but there have been women whose periods stop before the weight loss occurs.
Why is having a period important?
The periods stop because your body no longer produces enough oestrogen to maintain the lining of the womb, hence there is no lining to shed.
Low oestrogen can cause symptoms of:
- low mood
- poor concentration
- vaginal dryness and
- a reduction in breast size
The most common symptom is probably hot flushes (similar to women who are in the menopausal period).
In the long term, it can also cause thinning of your bones and lead to osteoporosis. This can increase your risk of having a fracture.
The periods tend to return once you regain the weight. The general rule of thumb is to reach the weight you last were when you had regular periods.
If you’ve been at a low body weight for a long time, it may take months or even years for your period to return, even when you have reached your ideal weight.
In the meantime, if you have symptoms of oestrogen deficiency, or if the bones are significantly affected, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment option.
This gives you a gentle replacement of your female hormones and improves your overall sense of well-being (and helps the bones too). Every woman is different, and there are different forms of HRT available so it is possible to find one that is most suitable to you.