Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Subscribe to the Magazine for free
Subscribe for free to keep reading! If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Top Labs To Run Bi-Annually On Your Patients Who Suffer From Anorexia Nervosa

Medically reviewed by 
Top Labs To Run Bi-Annually On Your Patients Who Suffer From Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is more than just an “obsession” with being thin. It is a disease that has profound implications for the body, leading to a host of problems, such as cardiovascular disease and disrupted gastrointestinal function. This disorder affects millions of people worldwide, with approximately 0.5% of youth in the United States suffering from this condition. Managing and treating anorexia necessitates a multi-faceted approach. 

In this article, we will highlight the top labs to consider for patients with anorexia nervosa, emphasizing how they can aid in the early detection of potential complications and inform treatment strategies. Given the array of health issues that can accompany this disorder, it's essential for healthcare providers to be vigilant in tracking these indicators to provide the most comprehensive care possible.


What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a complex eating disorder characterized by severely restricted food intake, significantly low body weight, and an intense fear of weight gain. In addition to these physical aspects, the disorder profoundly affects psychological well-being. Patients often have a distorted body image, viewing themselves as overweight even when they are underweight and failing to recognize the severity of their weight loss and its implications for their health.

There are two types of anorexia nervosa that are commonly recognized: the restrictor type and the bulimic (binging and purging) type. Individuals with the restrictor type severely limit their food intake, often avoiding foods high in carbohydrates and fats. On the other hand, those with the Bulimic Type engage in episodes of overeating, which are followed by compensatory behaviors such as vomiting, using laxatives, or other methods to clear their bowels.

The motivations behind the restricted eating patterns can be multi-faceted. Individuals may limit their food intake as a way to exert control over their lives, particularly when experiencing stress, anxiety, or low self-esteem. While the disorder can serve as a coping mechanism for emotional difficulties, it simultaneously exacerbates physical and mental health problems. Though anorexia nervosa affects both genders, it is more prevalent among women, particularly those in their teenage years and early adulthood (2,4). 

Due to the severity and complexity of anorexia nervosa, a multidisciplinary approach is often required for effective treatment. This typically involves nutritional counseling, psychological therapy, and medical monitoring. Without treatment, the disorder can lead to a myriad of health issues, including heart problems, kidney failure, osteoporosis, and even death (2,4). 

What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?  

Anorexia nervosa is a complex disorder with no single known cause. However, a range of factors contributes to its onset and progression. The condition often starts as a seemingly harmless diet but can quickly escalate into extreme, unhealthy weight loss due to an intense fear of gaining weight (2,4). 

Risk Factors

People with anorexia nervosa frequently have familial backgrounds marked by weight-related issues, physical health problems, and mental health challenges such as depression and substance abuse. These family histories often provide a fertile ground for the development of the disorder. Additionally, family dynamics, including parental or sibling attitudes toward body weight and image, can exert influence. Furthermore, neurochemical imbalances in the brain, particularly involving neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, are often observed in individuals with anorexia nervosa, pointing to a physiological dimension of the condition (2,4). 

Biological and Social Factors

Studies indicate that biological factors also have a role in this condition. There is a genetic correlation between educational attainment, neuroticism, and schizophrenia. Altered brain functions and structure are common in anorexia nervosa patients, including deficits in neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, differential activation in areas of the brain responsible for appetite and fear, and diminished activity among circuits involved in habitual behaviors (2,4). 

Beyond family and biological factors, broader social and environmental elements play a significant role in the onset of anorexia nervosa. Society's focus on thinness, perpetuated by the media and cultural norms, adds another layer of pressure. Developmental transitions, such as the physical changes accompanying puberty, can act as triggers for the disorder. Additionally, certain professions and activities that place a premium on body size, such as modeling, acting, and specific sports like ballet and long-distance running, can also contribute to the development of this complex condition. These societal and environmental influences often interact with individual and familial factors to compound the risks associated with anorexia nervosa (2,4). 

Co-Morbid Psychiatric Disorders

Major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are commonly found in individuals with anorexia nervosa (2,4). 

Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms

The symptoms of anorexia nervosa are varied and can manifest in both physical and emotional domains. They also often include behaviors specifically related to food and weight (2,4).

Food or Weight-Related Symptoms:

  • Altered body image
  • Low body weight
  • Extreme fear of gaining weight
  • Excessive physical activity, often to the point of compulsion
  • Denial of hunger or minimizing its importance
  • A fixation with food preparation, such as calorie counting or portion control
  • Unusual eating behaviors, like eating in secret or avoiding meals

Physical Symptoms:

  • Fine, downy body hair known as lanugo, a sign of severe malnutrition
  • Skin that appears dry or has a yellowish tint
  • Thinning hair and brittle nails
  • Poor nutritional status, indicating a lack of essential nutrients
  • Dehydration, which can exacerbate other symptoms
  • Noticeable thinness
  • Stomach pain or bloating
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue or lethargy, often due to malnutrition
  • Cold intolerance due to poor circulation and lack of body fat

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Social withdrawal, often to avoid situations involving food
  • Loss of interest in sexual activities
  • Irritability, which may be exacerbated by hunger or stress
  • Mood fluctuations, often leaning toward depression
  • An overall sense of emotional volatility

What Are The Benefits of Regular Lab Testing For Patients With Anorexia Nervosa?

Regular laboratory testing for patients with anorexia nervosa serves multiple essential functions in their healthcare management. Given the wide range of complications that can arise from this condition, including cardiovascular issues like bradycardia and hypotension, endocrine concerns such as osteoporosis, and even hematologic and renal abnormalities, lab tests can offer timely and critical insights. For example, testing can reveal electrolyte imbalances that could lead to life-threatening arrhythmias or monitor bone density to evaluate the risk for osteoporosis. Labs can also provide a snapshot of the patient's nutritional status, potentially highlighting deficiencies that could lead to peripheral neuropathy or other neurologic complications (2,4).

In addition to helping manage existing complications, regular lab work also enables early intervention, making it easier to address issues before they become severe. This proactive approach can be instrumental in preventing further deterioration of the patient's condition. Detecting changes in markers like hemoglobin, electrolytes, or renal function can prompt adjustments in the treatment plan. Such timely interventions can not only improve quality of life but also reduce the risk of severe or irreversible damage (2,4).

Top Labs To Run Bi-Annually On Patients With Anorexia Nervosa

Regular, bi-annual testing with these tests allows for ongoing, dynamic adjustments in treatment strategy and can provide early warnings for potentially severe complications, enhancing the likelihood of more positive outcomes in managing this complex disorder.

Micronutrient Testing

This Micronutrient Test, which assesses 31 vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, can be particularly useful for identifying deficiencies that may contribute to or exacerbate various complications of anorexia nervosa. For example, cardiovascular issues like arrhythmias and hypotension can be influenced by electrolyte imbalances, which this test can detect (2,4). 

Additionally, the test's ability to highlight nutritional deficiencies aligns directly with complications like osteoporosis, peripheral neuropathy, and muscle wasting. Knowing these deficiencies can allow for targeted supplementation or dietary modification, enabling early intervention and potential prevention of further complications. Since micronutrients are central to various metabolic and physiologic processes, identifying deficiencies early can be instrumental in multi-faceted care for anorexia nervosa patients (2,4).

Hormone Testing

This test comprehensively assesses sex and adrenal hormones and their metabolites, which is critical given that anorexia nervosa patients often experience endocrine-related complications like hypothalamic hypogonadism and osteoporosis. The adrenal hormones' measurements can offer insights into the patient's stress response, which can influence cardiovascular health, including conditions like bradycardia. Monitoring cortisol patterns can also be relevant for understanding psychiatric symptoms like depression and insomnia (2,4).

Comprehensive Screen Including CMP, CBC, and Additional Markers

This test provides the usual information found in a Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP) and Complete Blood Count (CBC), along with thyroid, nutritional, and metabolic markers, and offers a broad overview of a patient's health status. Hematologic issues like cytopenias or bone marrow hypoplasia/aplasia can be identified through CBC. Thyroid markers can help clarify the potential for metabolic slowdown, which can contribute to low BMI and muscle wasting. The CMP can alert clinicians to renal imbalances or failure, which are pertinent given the possible renal and electrolyte complications like hypokalemic metabolic acidosis (2,4). 

Additional Labs to Check

While bi-annual lab testing is an essential component of ongoing care for patients with anorexia nervosa, it's worth noting that other forms of diagnostic evaluation, such as ECGs and DEXA scans, are also important but do not necessarily need to be conducted as frequently. These tests are vital for assessing cardiovascular health and bone density, respectively—areas of concern in this patient population. However, the frequency of these specific tests should be individualized based on the patient's clinical status and risk factors and may not be required on a semi-annual basis for all patients. Therefore, if these assessments haven't been performed recently, it would be prudent to consider them as part of a comprehensive medical evaluation (2,4).



In summary, anorexia nervosa is a complex and multi-dimensional disorder that impacts both physical and emotional well-being. A multidisciplinary approach to treatment is often required, which includes psychological therapy, nutritional counseling, and medical monitoring. Regular bi-annual lab tests serve a critical role in this care, offering timely insights into complications such as cardiovascular issues, endocrine imbalances, and other abnormalities. These tests enable dynamic adjustments to treatment plans and early interventions, enhancing the likelihood of better outcomes. 

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
Learn More
No items found.

Lab Tests in This Article

Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders. (2021, July 14). National Eating Disorders Association.

Moore, C. A. (2022, August 29). Anorexia Nervosa. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf.

Complementary and Integrative Medicine Approaches to Eating Disorders. (2023, May 12). Rupa Health.

Anorexia Nervosa. (2023, January 31). Johns Hopkins Medicine.

An Integrative Medicine Approach to Kidney Disease. (2023). Rupa Health. Retrieved September 1, 2023, from

8 Ways To Prevent Osteoporosis As You Age. (2023, March 2). Rupa Health.

An Integrative Medicine Approach to Depression. (2023). Rupa Health. Retrieved September 1, 2023, from

Integrative Medicine Approaches to Managing Anxiety and Depression Naturally. (2023, August 24). Rupa Health.

A Functional Medicine Constipation Protocol: Testing, Nutrition, and Supplements. (2023). Rupa Health. Retrieved September 1, 2023, from

An Integrative Medicine Approach to Fatigue. (2023). Rupa Health. Retrieved September 1, 2023, from

Integrative Medicine Approaches to Neuropathic Pain Management: Specialty Testing and Treatment Options. (2023, July 5). Rupa Health.

Subscribe to the Magazine for free to keep reading!
Subscribe for free to keep reading, If you are already subscribed, enter your email address to log back in.
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Are you a healthcare practitioner?
Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.