There are three major types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa involves compulsive dieting and exercise to reduce weight, leading to dangerous weight loss and, in women, the absence of menstrual periods. Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating followed by purging. The recently-identified binge eating disorder is marked by binge eating that isn't followed by purging.
Nearly all the people affected by eating disorders are teenage girls and young adult women from the middle and upper socioeconomic classes. The causes of the various disorders aren't known, but it seems indisputable that the current Western emphasis on slimness as a mark of feminine attractiveness contributes greatly.
Because severe anorexia can be life threatening, treatment generally combines a weight-gain program with psychotherapy and, sometimes, antidepressant drugs. Bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are both treated with psychotherapy, antidepressants, or appetite suppressants to help control binge eating.
Proposed Treatments for Eating Disorders
While there are no well-established natural treatments for eating disorders, there is some evidence that zinc supplements, when used in conjunction with conventional medical treatments, may help people with anorexia to gain weight. Preliminary attempts to treat bulimia by altering serotonin levels are also promising. In addition, the supplement DHEA might be helpful for protecting bone mass.
The relationship between anorexia nervosa and zinc deficiency is controversial and the subject of many studies.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full zinc article.
Standard antidepressant drugs are most often used for this purpose. However, it might be possible to achieve similar results with tryptophan and related supplements.
Note : L-tryptophan is no longer sold as a supplement due to safety concerns. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) might be a safer option; however, it has not been studied in eating disorders.
The antidepressant herb St. John's wort might also raise serotonin levels.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full DHEA article.
Other Proposed Treatments
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 07/2012 -
- Update Date: 07/25/2012 -