Assessment and clinical management of bone disease in adults with eating disorders: a review

Journal of Eating Disorders
By Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS

Research Asset


Aim: To review current medical literature regarding the causes and clinical management options for low bone mineral density (BMD) in adult patients with eating disorders.

Background: Low bone mineral density is a common complication of eating disorders with potentially lifelong debilitating consequences. Definitive, rigorous guidelines for screening, prevention and management are lacking. This article intends to provide a review of the literature to date and current options for prevention and treatment.

Methods: Current, peer-reviewed literature was reviewed, interpreted and summarized.

Conclusion: Any patient with lower than average BMD should weight restore and in premenopausal females, spontaneous menses should resume. Adequate vitamin D and calcium supplementation is important. Weight-bearing exercise should be avoided unless cautiously monitored by a treatment team in the setting of weight restoration. If a patient has a Z-score less than expected for age with a high fracture risk or likelihood of ongoing BMD loss, physiologic transdermal estrogen plus oral progesterone, bisphosphonates (alendronate or risedronate) or teriparatide could be considered. Other agents, such as denosumab and testosterone in men, have not been tested in eating-disordered populations and should only be trialed on an empiric basis if there is a high clinical concern for fractures or worsening bone mineral density. A rigorous peer-based approach to establish guidelines for evaluation and management of low bone mineral density is needed in this neglected subspecialty of eating disorders.

Written by

Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS

Dr. Philip S. Mehler began his career at Denver Health more than 35 years ago and was formerly its Chief of Internal Medicine and then Denver Health’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) until he was promoted…

ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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