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The Dangers of Anorexic Weight Loss

written by: Suzanne Florin • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 3/9/2011

Food restriction, excessive exercising, and use of laxatives are among the causes of anorexic weight loss. They can pose serious health problems such as cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal problems, amenorrhea and osteoporosis.

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    Overview

    Anorexia is a physical and psychological disorder that can affect both men and women. Negative body image, preoccupation with weight and body shape, and low self-esteem are among the causes of anorexia. A person's desire to achieve physical 'perfection' is linked to body weight, thus the drive to reach an ideal weight pushes them to carry out a self-made weight loss program that can jeopardize their health.

    An anorexic usually follows a strict regimen in order to continuously lose weight. Obsession with counting calories, excessive exercise, use of laxatives and diuretics, and ritualistic eating and drinking are among their means of achieving the goal to be thin and to stay thin. For example, they may cut food into tiny pieces and wash them down with large amounts of water to make them feel full.

    Anorexic weight loss that persists can cause serious health problems. Nutritional deficiency, electrolyte imbalance, and exhaustion from engaging in intense workouts and physical activities lead to a multitude of disorders.

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    Health Problems Associated with Anorexic Weight Loss

    Among the health conditions linked with severe anorexic weight loss are the following:

    Heart problems

    Over exercising, an activity common among anorexics to achieve weight loss, can damage the heart. Anorexics may develop sinus bradycardia (irregular heartbeat), where the heart rate falls below 50 beats per minute at its resting rate. Excessive exercising and starvation can also lead to arrythmias, or an abnormal heart rate in the resting heart. Both conditions, which can be fatal, are also caused by electrolyte imbalances and dehydration.

    Gastrointestinal disorders

    Dehydration is common among anorexics, because of starvation and use of laxatives. Consequences include constipation, abnormal muscle activity in the esophagus, and ulcers.

    Osteoporosis

    Nutritional deficiency and a poor diet can disrupt normal body functioning. Among female anorexics, amenorrhea (cessation of menstruation) is common because of stressful activities accompanied by starvation. Estrogen levels decrease which results in prolonged amenorrhea that can lead to osteopenia (mild thinning of bone mass). Osteoporosis eventually develops as the bone mass continues to thin.

    Hypoglycemia

    Hypoglycemia is a condition where blood sugar levels fall below normal. Anorexics are susceptible to this because long-term starvation depletes substances in the body that are necessary for gluconeogenesis, the process of converting carbon sources into glucose. Glucose is needed for energy. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include heart palpitations, tremor, anxiety, sweating, and visual disturbances. If left untreated, seizure, loss of consciousness, and even death can occur.

    Kidney stones

    If calcium is scarce the body will take it from the bones, resulting in an increase of calcium serum levels. Dehydration causes the calcium serum to become more concentrated which increases the risk of kidney stones forming.

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    Conclusion

    Anorexic weight loss occurs because of abnormal eating habits, excessive exercising, and abuse of laxatives. The dramatic loss of weight is associated with nutrient deficiency, which is linked to a number of health conditions such as heart problems, gastrointestinal disorders, osteoporosis, hypoglycemia and kidney stones. These conditions vary from mild to severe, and some can be fatal.