The female reproductive system and the systems that regulate appetite and eating behavior are closely related. An improved understanding of how these systems work in accord may lead to improved treatments for women with eating disorders. The onset of an eating disorder typically occurs during adolescence and young adulthood, which is a critical developmental period, causing detrimental effects on gynecological health. If an eating disorder occurs after menses begins, it can result in amenorrhea or the cessation of menstruation.
These types of menstrual disruptions are most common in anorexia nervosa, with up to 84% of women with anorexia experiencing amenorrhea. The low body weight present in individuals with anorexia is typically the cause of menstrual cycle disruptions. Low body weight reduces the body’s fat stores, which play a necessary role in the production of reproductive hormones. Without sufficient fat stores, the production of reproductive hormones occurs at an inappropriate level and cannot regulate the menstrual cycle, causing a delay or cessation of menstruation.
Up to 40% of women with bulimia nervosa also experience amenorrhea and 64% of women with bulimia experience infrequent and irregular periods. Amenorrhea also occurs in patients with binge eating disorder; hormonal dysregulation may be the etiological root of both binge eating and menstrual disturbance.
Infertility, Miscarriages, Pregnancy and Post-Pregnancy
A delay or cessation of menstruation may not seem extremely problematic on the surface, but it can have consequences in regards to trying to conceive, being pregnant and birth outcomes. Despite the detrimental impact of eating disorders on the menstrual cycle, there does not appear to be permanent effects on fertility. While those with a history of anorexia may not struggle with infertility, some women who currently have anorexia may. Women with both a history of anorexia and bulimia are more likely to have conceived using fertility treatment and to take longer than 6-months to conceive.
Women with binge eating disorder are at an increased risk of having a miscarriage, which may be an indirect result of the fact that many women with binge eating disorder are obese. Women with binge eating disorder are also at an increased risk for maternal hypertension, large-for-gestational-age babies, and a longer duration of labor. Some studies have shown that women with anorexia have an increased risk of low weight babies, preterm birth and the need for a c-section.
After birth, women with a history of an eating disorder are at an increased risk for postpartum depression and anxiety, with up to 35% experiencing postpartum depression.
Eating disorders can occur throughout the lifespan of women and can negatively impact a woman’s gynecological health and well-being. It’s important for adolescent girls and women to understand the impact eating disorders have on the reproductive system and to engage in open communication with their healthcare provider.
If you or a loved one needs help for both an eating disorder and substance use disorder, you’ll want a treatment center like The Meadows Ranch that offers an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to treatment. The Meadows Ranch offers medical supervision 24 hours a day, seven days a week, along with talk therapies, experiential therapies (like equine therapy and challenge courses), family programming, nutritional and culinary training, and the latest neurobehavioral techniques for treating emotional trauma.
For more information about The Meadows Ranch’ inpatient, partial hospitalization, and residential treatment for women and adolescent girls, please call 866-390-5100. Our Intake Specialists are happy to answer questions you may have and help you decide if The Meadows Ranch has the right program for you.