Dr. Manny's Health Beat: Starving to Death

Every day, whether through television or print media, we see young girls dreaming of a life as a super model.

Many believe that to achieve this goal, they must have the perfect body. I really do not know what a "perfect body" is, but it seems that many in the beauty expert field seem to have found the answer: The ultra-slim look. For many young girls, the pursuit of this perfect body starts very early by developing poor eating habits, but ultimately ends up as a serious medical problem.

This Tuesday, one of these extremely thin models died in a Sao Paulo, Brazil hospital from severe complications of anorexia nervosa.

Anorexia is a devastating eating disorder typically defined as an obsessive behavior focus on weight gain and self image. Many people with this eating disorder do not realize the danger that they could be facing; or, perhaps they hide their fear of weight gain. There are many risk factors associated with anorexia, but socio-cultural pressures are typically on the top of the list. Other risk factors include depression, anxiety, trauma and obsessive compulsive behaviors.

Aside from the obvious result of being extremely thin, the effects of starvation in the human body are multiple. They include the inability of the body to fight infections; dehydration; kidney failure; muscle weakness; hormones imbalances; and, as we have seen too many times in the past, death. The 21-year-old Brazilian model who died this week had a Body Mass Index equal to that of a 12 year old girl.

Treating anorexia is very challenging-- not only for health care workers, but for the patients and their families. Many treatments, including behavioral therapy and nutritional counseling, can do wonders for many patients, but persistence is the key.

However, the first thing that any patient or family must do is recognize is that there is a problem and that help is needed.

Dr. Manny Alvarez is the managing editor of health news at Foxnews.com, and is a regular medical contributor on the FOX News Channel. He is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Additionally, Alvarez is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.