Women who are naturally thin may want to start considering putting on weight, for a new study has found that young women who are constitutionally or severely thin, may suffer from impaired bone quality and also be at risk for osteoporosis.
Constitutional thinness refers to young women with no identified eating disorder who have a low body mass index yet continue to have a close-to-normal fat mass percentage, normal physiological menstrual cycles, and normal energy metabolism.
"Constitutional thinness is such a rare entity that subjects are frequently misdiagnosed as anorexics and socially stigmatised. Research has been severely limited in this area. Until now, low bone density related to low body weight in young women has been described only in patients with anorexia nervosa," said Bruno Estour, M.D., of Centre.
Hospitalier Universitaire de Saint-Etienne (CHU) in Saint Etienne, France.
The study followed 25 constitutionally thin and 44 anorexic young women ages 18 to 30. Femoral neck and lumbar spine bone mineral density were measured by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) while distal radius and distal tibia were evaluated by three-dimensional peripheral quantitative computed tomography. Fat and lean body mass were determined using the same DXA device.
"Almost fifty percent of anorexic patients present with a decreased bone mass and a very increased fracture risk, explained by the multiple hormonal and nutritional abnormalities," said Estour. "In constitutionally thin young women we found an unexpected similar percentage of low bone mass difficult to explain in a context of hormonal, energetic, and bone turnover normality."
Osteoporosis is mostly found in women following menopause. However, young women have an equivalent degree of osteoporosis when their bone mineral density (BMD) falls within a certain range.
Researchers used a manufacturer-supplied reference dataset of healthy young adult female BMD values and identified a Z-score (a score expressed in standard deviation units from a given mean of age-matched controls) < -2.0 as an equivalent of osteoporosis. In this study 44 percent of constitutionally thin subjects presented with a Z-score < -2.0.
Estour and his colleagues hypothesize that mechanisms related to genetics and/or insufficient load on key weight-bearing bone regions may be responsible for impaired bone quality in constitutionally thin young women.
The study has been published on-line and will appear in the January issue of JCEM, a publication of The Endocrine Society.