Endocrinological factors underlying the etiology of anorexia nervosa are relevant to its treatment. It appears that sufferers of anorexia nervosa perform their weight-limiting behaviors in an attempt to compensate for adrenocortical insufficiency. Hypoglycemia stimulates the secretion of cortisol. In response to severe malnutrition, blood cortisol levels also rise due to increased cortisol half-life and a decrease in its metabolic clearance rate. If an adrenocortical-insufficient individual goes on a severe diet, one effect will be a significant increase in their blood cortisol levels, which will alleviate their adrenocortical insufficiency and its symptoms. This response is a powerful positive reinforcement for continuing their weight-limiting behaviors. Sufferers of anorexia nervosa commonly exhibit two other behaviors that can raise their cortisol levels: excessive exercise and self injury. Treatment of the underlying adrenocortical insufficiency with cortisol supplements has been shown to be effective in five previously published cases of diagnosed anorexia nervosa.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.