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Body fat helps recovery from anorexia nervosa

In women recovering from anorexia nervosa, achieving a normal percentage of body fat indicates good long-term outcome.

Body fat helps recovery from anorexia nervosa

In women recovering from anorexia nervosa, achieving a normal percentage of body fat indicates good long-term outcome. As many as half of the women who recover from anorexia nervosa eventually relapse, so it is important to identify factors that boost relapse risk. Researchers from the Columbia University in New York City studied 32 anorexic women who had reached at least 90% of their ideal body weight. Their body fat percentage, body mass index (BMI), and other characteristics, including levels of the stress hormone level cortisol and the appetite regulating hormone leptin, were correlated with the risk of relapse. Among the 26 women who remained in the study for an additional eight weeks, body fat percentage was significantly related to treatment outcome. The two women who had a full recovery had an average 30% body fat, while the 11 women whose recovery was classified as "good" averaged 25% body fat. Among the three with "fair" treatment outcome, body fat percentage averaged 26%. Body fat percentage averaged 21% for the 10 women who fared poorly in the treatment. On the other hand, there was no relationship between BMI, cortisol and leptin levels and the likelihood of successful treatment. The findings suggest that anorexic women who had regained their normal weight, those with the most body fat relative to their total weight, were the least likely to relapse. Thus, restoring body fat to normal levels could be integral to recovery. However, further research is warranted before body composition testing can be recommended for all anorexic patients who have regained body weight.
American Journal of Psychiatry,
June 2007
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