July 30, 2019

Helping improve bone health for teens with anorexia

Teen girls with anorexia are at risk for poor bone development, but upcoming research, funded by Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation, is aiming to help change that.

Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Munier Nour is leading the pilot study in Saskatoon, which will use an estrogen replacement to study the impact on bone health in girls with anorexia.

“It’s important to ensure every adolescent can attain their peak bone mass, or else it could have an impact on their entire life. If there are detriments to bone health, it could lead to things such as earlier risk of osteoporosis or fractures,” Nour explained.

New and effective strategies are desperately needed, as there is no proven treatment or prevention therapy approved for optimizing bone health in young girls with anorexia.

Anorexia nervosa is a condition of severe low body weight, as a result of impaired body image and an intense fear of weight gain. It often occurs in adolescence at a critical time for bone development.

Teen girls who have anorexia are at risk for bone loss and bone fragility because of a number of hormonal changes that occur in response to inadequate nutritional intake. Estrogen deficiency is thought to be a major contributor to bone loss.

Unfortunately, most studies that have attempted to replace estrogen in a pill format for those with anorexia have not shown benefits to bone health. Nour’s study will instead replace estrogen with a patch, which has shown promising results.

The study will examine the bone health of 24 Saskatchewan girls with anorexia, ranging in age from 12 to 20-years-old. For two years, participants will have their bone health assessed multiple times, with half of them receiving estrogen and the other half receiving a placebo.

“In Saskatchewan, we have unique opportunities in terms of bone health research. We’ll be using state-of-the-art high resolution bone imaging techniques in a collaborative team of researchers and clinicians to conduct this research,” Nour said.

The results of this study have potential for global impact for patient care well beyond Saskatchewan. Once the bone health pilot study is completed in Saskatoon, Nour hopes to see the study expand to other centres across the country.

“We are very proud to support this pilot study, as it highlights the importance to care for the unique needs of teens in this province,” said Lynn Redl-Huntington, Vice-President, Communications at Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation. “We know this research will create a greater understanding of bone health in girls with anorexia and we are so thankful to have donors who see the value of such important work.”

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