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Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 May;73(5):865-9.

Changes in regional fat redistribution and the effects of estrogen during spontaneous weight gain in women with anorexia nervosa.

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  • 1Neuroendocrine Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.



Anorexia nervosa is a disease of severe acquired undernutrition with a high and increasing prevalence among young women in the United States.


The objective was to investigate the effects of spontaneous outpatient weight recovery and estrogen administration on fat distribution in patients with anorexia nervosa.


Twenty-seven amenorrheic women aged 26.6 +/- 1.2 y with anorexia nervosa were identified through an outpatient study of bone loss and were randomly assigned to receive or not receive estrogen without any dietary intervention other than calcium and multivitamin supplements. Body composition was measured at baseline and at 6 and 9 mo and was compared with cross-sectional values obtained in 20 healthy, eumenorrheic, age-matched (25.4 +/- 0.5 y) control subjects.


Twenty of the 27 patients with anorexia aged 27.0 +/- 1.3 y spontaneously gained weight (4.1 +/- 0.9 kg); body mass index (in kg/m(2)) increased from 16.1 +/- 0.3 to 17.5 +/- 0.4. Fat mass and lean mass accounted for 68% and 32% of the gain in total body mass, respectively. With spontaneous weight gain, there was a significant increase in the percentage of trunk fat from 32.4 +/- 1.3% at baseline to 36.5 +/- 1.0% at 9 mo (P = 0.03), which correlated with urinary free cortisol (r = 0.66, P = 0.003). Estrogen treatment was not protective against the gain in trunk fat with spontaneous weight gain.


In women with anorexia nervosa, spontaneous weight gain is associated with a significant increase in trunk adiposity, and estrogen administration may not protect against the accumulation of central fat with weight gain.

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