Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
September/October 2003 Volume 13, Number 5
©2002 Gürze Books
As women with anorexia nervosa lose weight, presumably all parts of the body are affected. However, in a pilot study at Columbia University, researchers have learned that certain vital organs, including the brain, liver, and heart, seem to be protected during extreme weight loss.
As Dr. Laurel Mayer reported at the Academy for Eating Disorders annual meeting in Boston, total body magnetic resonance imaging scans of 6 women with anorexia nervosa hospitalized on the eating disorders unit at Columbia University and 10 healthy controls showed no significant differences in weight of vital organs between the two groups. Skeletal muscle, total fat, spleen and kidney mass were lower in low-weight patients versus normal-weight controls. No significant changes in brain, liver, of heart mass were noted after the anorexic women and controls regained weight.
Other studies have shown a very different pattern. For example, Deborah Katzman and colleagues found that brain mass was affected in adolescent anorexics (Semin Clin Neuropsychiatry 2001;6:146). White and gray matter changes and reversible brain atrophy have been reported among adolescents (Neuroradiology 2001;43:838). Further studies are needed to show whether adolescents may be more vulnerable to the effects of the disease or whether a different pattern of changes occurs in teens.