Anorexia Nervosa

Chronic Starvation Secondary to Anorexia Nervosa Is Associated With an Adaptive Suppression of Resting Energy Expenditure

Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
By Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS


Background: Chronic starvation is accompanied by a reduction in resting energy expenditure (REE). It is not clear whether this is due mainly to a reduction in body mass or also involves a significant reduction in the cellular metabolic rate of the fat-free mass (FFM).

Objectives: The main goal was to compare measured REE (REEm) with REE predicted by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry modeling of organ-tissue mass (REEp) in malnourished patients with severe anorexia nervosa (AN) and in healthy lean control subjects. REE adjusted for FFM and fat mass was also compared between the groups.

Design: This was a cross-sectional study of 30 patients with AN and 25 lean control subjects. REE was measured by indirect calorimetry. Body composition was modeled using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, and REE was predicted for each group based on organ-tissue mass.

Results: REEm was significantly lower than REEp in subjects with AN (854 ± 41 vs 1080 ± 25 kcal/d, P < .001), but not in control subjects. In addition, REE adjusted for both FFM and fat mass was significantly lower in the subjects with AN (1031 ± 37 vs 1178 ± 32 kcal/d, P < .01). Finally, compared with the lean control subjects, both organ and skeletal muscle mass were approximately 20% smaller in subjects with AN.

Conclusions: Chronic starvation is accompanied by a significant reduction in the metabolic rate of the FFM. The organs and/or tissues accounting for this are unknown. In addition, this study suggests that protein is mobilized proportionately from organs and skeletal muscle during starvation. This too may be an adaptive response to chronic starvation.

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.

Center of Excellence Logo