The hormonal consequences of anorexia nervosa not only effect the body’s physical state drastically, they also greatly effect a female’s emotional health. I can personally vouch for this because I live with the hormonal repercussions of my ED every single day. I am already 16 years old and I still haven’t had my period – the key that unlocks the door to womanhood. Sometimes I try to reassure myself saying that my lack of a menstrual cycle is just due to the fact I am a late bloomer, but then I see my little 12 year old sister, whose period came at the age of 12, and I am reminded that odds are my prepubescent physique and amenorrhea is the direct result of the years I spent restricting my intake, overexercising, and purging.
One of the most common hormonal issues with anorexics is a condition called hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is where “nature’s monthly gift” vanishes due to problems with the hypothalamus. What’s the hypothalamus? It’s actually a part of the brain that can be found hanging out right below the thalamus and right above our wonderful brain stem. Now the hypothalamus is super duper tiny, but despite it’s minuscule size, it has plays a huge role in various physiological processes. These include controlling things like body temperature, hunger, emotional responses, and most importantly – the release of 8 major hormones that the pituitary gland let’s out. One of these hormones is known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone, but those big guys with the white lab coats just call in GnRH for short. In hypothalamic amenorrhea, there is an incredible shortage in the amount of GnRH someone has in their body. These low levels of this vital hormone result in low levels of gonadotropin. So what happens when your gonadotropin is pretty much nonexistent? Well, you get problems like anovulation (lack of ovulation) and hypoestrogenemia (where your body does have enough estrogen). Ultimately, this results in infertility.
Infertility is honestly my worst fear. The idea of being completely unable to have my own children is absolutely devastating and I know that many other women feel the same way. But I cannot let this horrific fact get to me because I know if it does, I will just enter a state of depression and emotional turmoil. I think we all know what happens when an Ed-victim is struggling emotionally – yep, they subconsciously begin to readopt their disorder eating behaviors in order to cope. Instead think of infertility as a motivation to recover because you never know, maybe once you reach a healthy weight, your body’s reproductive system may get back into shape and allow you to start the family you always dreamed of.