Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Anorexia: Bad news, good news, bad news

The bad news: A new study from Finland reportedly shows that anorexia is about twice as common as researchers have thought, affecting about 5 percent of the population rather than the 1 to 2 percent incidence rate generally quoted. According to the study's authors, this statistic includes mild and/or subclinical cases not usually counted—people (most of them women) who suffered from "mild symptoms" (the news reports don't say what these are).

The good news: According to this study, about 70 percent of anorexics recover. By contrast, the usual statistics say that about a third of anorexics recover fully, a third remain very ill, and another third stay right on the edge, living a sort of half-life. The mortality rate is 20 percent.

The bad news: That 70 percent of women who recover do it "by age 30," says the study. Given that the average of onset for these women is between 15 and 19, that means they're still sick for many years.

One thing I like about the study is that it describes the arc of recovery in a helpful way: "First, lost weight was regained and menstruation resumed. Attitudes about body shape and weight took a much longer time to resolve. The Finnish study was conducted among pairs of female twins. Twins with anorexia nervosa were compared to their healthy co-twins and to healthy women from the general population. Within five years from weight restoration, women with anorexia nervosa were virtually indistinguishable from their healthy co-twins in terms of psychological symptoms and self-esteem. However, learning to deal with body shape and weight related concerns took usually much longer, 5-10 years."

Still too long. But heartening to know that at least studies on anorexia are starting to funnel down the pipeline.

2 comments:

RioIriri said...

I wonder how much of it is actual psychological recovery and how much is learning to hide the psychological effects very, very well.

I'm "recovered", and I certainly don't see a therapist or talk to my doctor about it, but the old mental pathways are still there--overgrown a bit, sure, but sometimes I find myself wandering down them without realizing it at first.

Harriet Brown said...

Rio,

How long have you been recovered? More than a couple of years? And--I don't mean to pry, but are you not just at a minimum weight but at a solidly good weight for your body type and shape?

Psychological recovery takes time. Lots of time, sometimes. I'm sure my daughter is still on the road to recovery, after one year of being weight restored. I'm guessing the longer you were caught in those mental pathways, the longer it takes to make new, healthier ones.

I've also heard of a program called the Pfeiffer Clinic (not sure how it's spelled) that analyzes micronutrients. It could be bs, but I do know parents who swear their kids' mental states improved dramatically after taking whatever formula of micronutrients these folks recommended.

I'm sorry it's not in the distant past for you, Rio. I hope it will be at some point.