While anyone can fall victim to an eating disorder, about 95 percent of those suffering from anorexia are women—and the numbers are similar for bulimia. Even more, a 2008 study found that 65 percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 45 have some form of "disordered eating," and have tried to lose weight in various ways, including taking laxatives and diet pills, forcing themselves to vomit and purging. For women, eating disorders can also be a result of coping with stress in an unhealthy way. So what are some of the long-term side effects of bulimia and anorexia?
Tooth Decay and Gum Disease: This is one of the most common side effects of bulimia. Frequent vomiting associated with bulimia causes stomach acids to come in regular contact with teeth and gums, damaging enamel and weakening teeth. This decay can affect the whole mouth, and, over time, lead to extensive dental repair and painful mouth sores.
Heart Disease: Even after recovering from an eating disorder, women can suffer from heart disease and/or a heart failure. Like other muscles, the heart relies on protein to function properly, and becomes weaker if stressed with trying to function without proper nutrition. The physical stress of an eating disorder wears on every part of the body—and this vital muscle is no exception. Unfortunately, some people who suffer from eating disorders weaken the heart to the point of a heart attack, even at a young age.
Kidney Damage: Think of the kidneys as filters: They process blood, getting rid of impurities to keep the body healthy. But regular vomiting and/or not eating and drinking enough can cause the body to be in a constant state of dehydration, making the kidneys work overtime to maintain normal levels of salt, water, and essential minerals in your blood. As a result, waste builds up, weakening these essential organs.
Body Hair Growth: For women, eating disorders can be the result of coping with stress in an unhealthy way—and one of the signs that there's a problem is excessive hair growth on unexpected areas of the body, such as the face. This is the body's attempt to keep warm after it receives the brain signal that it's being starved (common with anorexia), since a healthy diet plan is key to maintaining proper hair and nail growth. Meanwhile, hair on the head can become brittle and thin out.
Infertility: Extremely low body fat can cause amenorrhea—which is a medical term for no longer getting a period. It works like this: In the absence of a healthy diet plan, the body doesn't receive enough of the calories it requires to function properly, resulting in a hormone fluxuation that interferes with regular menstruation cycles.
Osteoporosis: Over time, bones can weaken due to malnutrition. For women, eating disorders increase an already high chance of suffering from bone damage. The International Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that 40 percent of Caucasian women in the US will develop the disease by age 50 (the likelihood is increased for African-American and Asian-American women)—and that's without adding the stress of an eating disorder. A healthy diet plan with calcium (found in milk, yogurt, and spinach) plus vitamin D (which you can get in a supplement—or from the sun) is essential to keeping bones strong.