Does anorexia lead to thyroid issues? Learn how anorexia affects the thyroid, and the difference between hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa can severely disrupt the normal functioning of the thyroid gland, which is responsible for hormone production and regulation. Hormones and eating disorders are interconnected, and changes in eating habits can impact hormone levels significantly. Hormones greatly influence a person’s overall health and development. Eating disorders disrupt a person’s hormone levels, which causes a ripple effect of negative changes in the body.
Two common thyroid conditions are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Many people confuse the two because they sound almost identical, but they are entirely different conditions.
Can Anorexia Cause Hyperthyroidism?
Eating disorders do not usually cause hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease, an immune system disorder, is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, not anorexia.
With hyperthyroidism, the thyroid is overactive and produces excessive amounts of hormones. This influx of hormones in the body speeds up a person’s metabolism significantly and can cause increased gastrointestinal activity, including diarrhea. An unnaturally high metabolism damages the body over time and can lead to serious medical issues.
Can Anorexia Cause Hypothyroidism?
Eating disorders can lead to hypothyroidism, or low hormone production, which is the opposite of hyperthyroidism.
Typically, people who have anorexia are extremely underweight from starving themselves. Starvation slows thyroid functioning significantly, leading to hypothyroidism. When the body is starved, the thyroid conserves energy by slowing down metabolism. With long-term restrictive eating, thyroid functioning slows to an absolute minimum. Energy diverts away from non-essential hormone functions, such as digestion and reproductive hormone health, which is why many people with anorexia experience a variety of gastrointestinal issues and irregular menstrual cycles.
Anorexia can have devastating mental and physical effects, including impaired thyroid functioning. However, anorexia is treatable, and it is possible to heal from hypothyroidism with the right care.
You and Your Hormones. “Eating disorders and hormones.” December 2016. Accessed February 19, 2019.
Wei-Xin Dai, Xun-Wu Meng. “Causes of anorexia in untreated hyperthyroidism: a prospective study.” May 1, 2000. Accessed February 19, 2019.
Romm, Aviva, M.D. “How To Heal Your Adrenals & Thyroid From An Eating Disorder.” (n.d.) Accessed February 19, 2019.
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