Increased bone marrow fat in anorexia nervosa

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009 Jun;94(6):2129-36. doi: 10.1210/jc.2008-2532. Epub 2009 Mar 24.


Context: Although women with anorexia nervosa (AN) have severe depletion of body fat, a paradoxical increase in bone marrow fat has been described. Recent data suggest that marrow fat measured by 1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) in combination with bone mineral density (BMD) may be more valuable than either parameter alone in detecting bone weakness.

Objective: The objective of the study was to investigate the effect of AN on accumulation of marrow fat in spine and femur using 1H-MRS and the relationship between marrow fat, BMD, and body composition in subjects with AN and normal-weight controls.

Design: This was a cross-sectional study.

Setting: The study was conducted at a referral center.

Patients: Patients included 10 women with AN (29.8 +/- 7.6 yr) and 10 normal-weight age-matched women (29.2 +/- 5.2 yr).

Interventions: There were no interventions.

Main outcomes measure: Marrow fat content of the fourth lumbar vertebra and femur measured by 1H-MRS. BMD of spine and hip measured by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry.

Results: Subjects with AN had higher marrow fat at the fourth lumbar vertebra and femur compared with controls (P = 0.004-0.01). There was an inverse correlation between marrow fat of L4 and femur and BMD of the spine and hip (r = -0.56 to -0.71, P = 0.01-0.0002) and body mass index and sc adipose tissue of the thigh (r = -0.49 to -0.71, P = 0.03-0.0007). There was an inverse correlation between femur marrow fat and sc and total abdominal adipose tissue (r = -0.53 to -0.67, P = 0.003-0.03).

Conclusion: Women with AN have greater lumbar and femoral marrow fat than controls, and marrow fat correlates inversely with BMD. This paradoxical increase in marrow fat at a time when sc and visceral fat are markedly reduced raises important questions about functional consequences of this process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / metabolism
  • Anorexia Nervosa / pathology*
  • Body Fat Distribution
  • Bone Density
  • Bone Marrow / chemistry
  • Bone Marrow / metabolism*
  • Bone Marrow / pathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Fats / analysis
  • Female
  • Femur / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism* / physiology
  • Spine / diagnostic imaging
  • Up-Regulation
  • Young Adult


  • Fats