Compensatory growth (organism)

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Representation of compensatory growth

Compensatory growth, known as catch-up growth and compensatory gain, is an accelerated growth of an organism following a period of slowed development, particularly as a result of nutrient deprivation.[1][2] The growth may be with respect to weight or length (or height in humans).[1][3][4][5][6][7][8] For example, oftentimes the body weights of animals who experience nutritional restriction will over time become similar to those of animals who did not experience such stress.[1] It is possible for high compensatory growth rates to result in overcompensation, where the organism exceeds normal weight and often has excessive fat deposition.[9]

An organism can recover to normal weight without additional time.[1] Sometimes when the nutrient restriction is severe, the growth period is extended to reach the normal weight.[1] If the nutrient restriction is severe enough, the organism may have permanent stunted growth where it does not ever reach normal weight.[1] Usually in animals, complete recovery from carbohydrate and protein restriction occurs.[9]

Compensatory growth has been observed in a number of organisms including humans,[3][4][5][6][7][8] other species of mammals,[10] birds,[10] reptiles,[11] fish,[12][13] plants (especially grasses and young tree seedlings and saplings),[14] fungi,[15] microbes,[16] and damselflies.[17]


In 1911, Hans Aron performed the earliest study of growth after periods of undernourishment.[18] He underfed a dog and found that it still had the capacity to rapidly gain weight, though it did not reach the final weight of a dog that was fed normally.[18][19] In 1915, Osborne and Mendel were the first to demonstrate that rats fed after growth restriction had an accelerated growth rate.[10][18][20] In 1945, Brody developed the idea of “homoestasis of growth” in the book Bioenergetics and Growth.[10][18][21] In 1955, Verle Bohman was the first to use the term “compensatory growth” in an article pertaining to beef cattle.[10][22]


In animals, homeostatic and homeorhetic processes are involved in the abnormally high growth rates.[1] Homeostatic processes usually affect compensatory growth in the short term, whereas homeorhetic processes usually have a long-term effect.[2]

The exact biological mechanisms for compensatory growth are poorly understood, though it is clear that in some animals the endocrine system is involved in the metabolism and nutrient partitioning in the tissues.[1][23] First, during nutrient starvation, a reduction of basal metabolism takes place.[1][23] The gut tissues are the first tissues to be reduced in weight and activity.[23] Then, during the realimentation (re-feeding) phase, an increase in feeding enables more dietary protein and energy to be contributed for tissue growth instead of basal metabolism.[1] The gut tissues are the first to increase in weight, followed by muscle tissue and finally adipose tissue.[23]

Studies of growth in anorexic human patients[edit]

Anorexia nervosa can have serious implications if its duration and severity are significant and if onset occurs before the completion of growth, pubertal maturation or prior to attaining peak bone mass.[24] Both height gain and pubertal development are dependent on the release of growth hormone and gonadotrophins (LH and FSH) from the pituitary gland. Suppression of gonadotropins in patients with anorexia nervosa has been frequently documented.[24] In some cases, especially where onset is pre-pubertal, physical consequences such as stunted growth and pubertal delay are usually fully reversible.[3] Height potential is normally preserved if the duration and severity of anorexia nervosa are not significant and/or if the illness is accompanied with delayed bone age (especially prior to a bone age of approximately 15 years), as hypogonadism may negate the deleterious effects of undernutrition on stature by allowing for a longer duration of growth compared to controls.[4] In such cases, appropriate early treatment can preserve height potential and may even help to increase it in some post-anorexic subjects due to the aforementioned reasons in addition to factors such as long-term reduced estrogen-producing adipose tissue levels compared to premorbid levels.[5][6][7][8]

Factors affecting compensatory growth[edit]

In 1960, Wilson and Osborne outlined six factors that could affect compensatory growth in a review article.[2][10] The importance of each, some, or all of these factors is not well understood.[9] These factors are as follows:[2][9][10]

  • The nature of the restricted diet
  • The degree of severity of undernutrition
  • The duration of the period of undernutrition
  • The stage of development at the commencement of undernutrition
  • The relative rate of maturity of the species
  • The pattern of re-alimenation

Animal factors that can affect compensatory growth may include the maturity level and fat proportion of the animal at the time of nutrient deprivation, the genotype, the gender, and the metabolic changes.[2] The stage of development of the animal when the nutrient restriction occurs greatly affects its body composition.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k David E. Gerrard; Alan L. Grant (September 2002). Principles of Animal Growth and Development. Kendall Hunt. pp. 204–208. ISBN 978-0-7872-9147-1. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e Tony Leonard John Lawrence; V. R. Fowler (November 2002). Growth of farm animals. CABI. pp. 229–254. ISBN 978-0-85199-484-0. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  3. ^ a b c "Core interventions in the treatment and management of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders" (PDF). National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health. 2004.
  4. ^ a b c Prabhakaran, R.; Misra, M.; Miller, K. K.; Kruczek, K.; Sundaralingam, S.; Herzog, D. B.; Katzman, D. K.; Klibanski, A. (2008). "Determinants of Height in Adolescent Girls with Anorexia Nervosa". Pediatrics. 121 (6): e1517–e1523. doi:10.1542/peds.2007-2820. PMID 18519455.
  5. ^ a b c Nelson LR, Bulun SE (2001). "Estrogen production and action". J. Am. Acad. Dermatol. 45 (3 Suppl): S116–24. doi:10.1067/mjd.2001.117432. PMID 11511861.
  6. ^ a b c Carter, Shea L. (2008). "The genetic basis of human height : the role of estrogen". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ a b c "Anorexia nervosa may not stunt growth, short term". Reuters. 2008-06-06.
  8. ^ a b c Pfeiffer, RJ; Lucas, AR; Ilstrup, DM. "Effect of anorexia nervosa on linear growth". Clin Pediatr (Phila). 25: 7–12. doi:10.1177/000992288602500101. PMID 3943254.
  9. ^ a b c d fundamentals of modern agriculture. Taylor & Francis. pp. 279–280. GGKEY:BP74C846RC5. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Wilson, P.; Osbourn, D. (1960). "Compensatory growth after undernutrition in mammals and birds". Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. 35: 324–363. doi:10.1111/j.1469-185x.1960.tb01466.x. PMID 13785698.
  11. ^ Radder, R. S.; Warner, D. A.; Shine, R. (2007). "Compensating for a bad start: Catch-up growth in juvenile lizards (Amphibolurus muricatus, agamidae)". Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology. 307A (9): 500–508. doi:10.1002/jez.403. PMID 17620280.
  12. ^ James S. Diana (2004). Biology and ecology of fishes. Biological Sciences Press, a Division of Cooper Pub. Group. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-884125-98-0. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  13. ^ Turkmen, Serhat (2012). "Compensatory growth response of European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax L.) under cycled starvation and restricted feeding rate". Aquaculture Research (43): 1643–1650.
  14. ^ David M. Orcutt; Erik T. Nilsen (2000). The Physiology of Plants Under Stress: Soil and biotic factors. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 277–278. ISBN 978-0-471-17008-2. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  15. ^ Bretherton, S.; Tordoff, G. M.; Jones, T. H.; Boddy, L. (2006). "Compensatory growth of Phanerochaete velutina mycelial systems grazed by Folsomia candida (Collembola)". FEMS Microbiology Ecology. 58 (1): 33–40. doi:10.1111/j.1574-6941.2006.00149.x. PMID 16958906.
  16. ^ Mikola J. & H. Setala (1998), "No evidence of tropic cascades in an experimental microbial-based food web", Ecology, 79: 153–164, doi:10.2307/176871
  17. ^ Dmitriew, C.; Rowe, L. (2004). "Resource limitation, predation risk and compensatory growth in a damselfly". Oecologia. 142 (1): 150–154. doi:10.1007/s00442-004-1712-2. PMID 15372227.
  18. ^ a b c d C. J. K. Henry; Stanley J. Ulijaszek (1996). Long-term consequences of early environment: growth, development, and the lifespan developmental perspective. Cambridge University Press. pp. 124–138. ISBN 978-0-521-47108-4. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  19. ^ Aron, H. (1911). "Nutrition and growth". Philippine Journal of Sciences, Section B (Medical Science). 6: 1–52.
  20. ^ Osborne, T.B.; Mendel, L. B. (1915). "The resumption of growth after long continued failure to grow". The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 23: 439–454.
  21. ^ S. Brody (1945). Bioenergetics and Growth. Reinhold.
  22. ^ Bohman, V. R. (1955). "Compensatory Growth of Beef Cattle: The Effect of Hay Maturity". Journal of Animal Science. 14 (1): 249–255. doi:10.2527/jas1955.141249x.
  23. ^ a b c d C. G. Scanes (24 April 2003). Biology of growth of domestic animals. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 352. ISBN 978-0-8138-2906-7. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  24. ^ a b Nicholls, Dasha; Stanhope, Richard (2000). "Medical complications of anorexia nervosa in children and young adolescents". European Eating Disorders Review. 8 (2): 170–180. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1099-0968(200003)8:2<170::AID-ERV338>3.0.CO;2-Y.