Can Acupuncture Treat Eating Disorders?
Some forms of alternative therapy, like acupuncture, hold promise as effective eating disorder treatments. But patients need to be aware that long-term studies of alternative therapy methods, in general, are not plentiful.
About 10 million females and one million males in the United States struggle with an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Despite how serious and widespread eating disorders are, research funding is not abundant. Without funding, there have been few studies on how well standard-of-care eating disorder treatment works. A look at clinicaltrials.gov, which lists medically related research in funded in the United States, showed 303 studies involving anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating — far fewer than for other illnesses.
While traditional eating disorder treatment normally combines psychotherapy with nutritional counseling, some patients and their family members are exploring other options, including alternative therapy. Eating disorders are medically classified as psychological disorders that cause negative effects on the body. This makes conditions such as anorexia and bulimia ideal candidates for alternative therapy, which commonly focus on the mind-body connection. However, even fewer traditional studies are looking at how well alternative therapy works. One recently completed study looked at meditation to treat binge eating disorder.
Alternative Therapy: Acupuncture
Recently, studies have started examining the exact mechanisms of acupuncture that may make it a useful eating disorder treatment. Leptin, a hormone that helps regulate metabolism, has been shown to play a role in reproductive function and a woman’s menses. One study performed in Germany showed that patients with anorexia have lower-than-normal levels of leptin, which likely contributes to the fact that anorexia patients often stop getting their periods. Researchers in China looked at how a specific acupuncture point, known as sifeng, which is located behind the fingers, may affect serum leptin levels in anorexia patients. The study showed that acupuncture can increase levels of leptin, meaning there may be some promise for acupuncture as an eating disorder treatment.
In general, research is still limited on using acupuncture to treat eating disorders. But many eating disorder treatment facilities now include this alternative therapy under the rubric of comprehensive care. The reason: Many studies have shown that acupuncture can help those with generalized anxiety and depression, two conditions often diagnosed in eating disorder patients. Another study performed in China, which looked at eight randomized controlled trials, recently concluded that acupuncture could significantly reduce depression.
“Patients with eating disorders are usually dealing with some kind of underlying emotional issues,” says Bianca Beldini, owner of Sacred Space Acupuncture in New York City. “Acupuncture can be a fantastic way of addressing these root issues by bringing the body into better balance.”
- Everyday Health Web site. http://www.everydayhealth.com/eating-disorders/alternative-therapy-for-eating-disorders.aspx
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