University Of Pittsburgh Researchers Confirm Prozac® Is Effective In Sustaining Remission Of Eating Disorders
PITTSBURGH, April 24, 2001 — Fluoxetine hydrochloride (Prozac ®) is effective in helping people with anorexia nervosa maintain healthy body weight, according to a study by University of Pittsburgh researchers published in the April issue of Biological Psychiatry.
The research is the first to suggest that an antidepressant may be useful in helping recovering anorexics sustain normal weight post-hospitalization. It also provides additional evidence that eating disorders are true biochemical brain illnesses, along the lines of depression and other mood disorders.
According to the research, fluoxetine, one of a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, works by stabilizing the brain’s supply of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood and appetite, by preventing its reuptake, or re-absorption, by the brain. This action helps to correct the changes in brain function responsible for many of anorexia’s symptoms, which include depression, anxiety and obsessions and compulsions.
In the study, Walter H. Kaye, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and his colleagues followed for one year 35 anorexia outpatients who were discharged from the hospital after they recovered a significant amount of their body weight. Fluoxetine was prescribed for 16 of the patients while the remainder took a placebo. Among the patients on fluoxetine, 10 of 16 did not relapse and maintained a healthy body weight, while only three out of 19 on placebo were successful.
“We are very excited by the results,” Dr. Kaye said. “Until now, there have been no effective drug treatments for anorexia.”
Dr. Kaye cautioned that for fluoxetine to be effective, patients must first get to a healthy body weight. “If they are malnourished, their serotonin system may be unresponsive to medication,” Dr. Kaye explained. “Serotonin comes from tryptophan, an amino acid which can only be obtained in the diet. Often, the only way to help them return to a healthy body weight is through structured inpatient treatment. Once patients have a healthy body weight, a medication that helps them maintain it outside of the hospital and prevent relapse may ultimately save lives.”
Anorexia nervosa is a chronic and dangerous disorder that if left untreated, is ultimately fatal. It affects mostly young women and often starts in the early teen years. Eating disorders often run in families and may have a genetic component.
The Price Foundation of Geneva, Switzerland, is funding new research by Dr. Kaye to uncover the genes responsible and to help develop new medical treatments for eating disorders.
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