Talk Therapy, Medication May Help Fight Binge-Eating Disorder

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Binge-eating disorder can be a devastating illness to live with but a new analysis shows talk therapy or medication can be effective ways to recover from the eating disorders affecting 3 percent of the U.S. population.

Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the country but it has only recently been recognized as a distinct eating disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. Characterized by recurring and psychologically distressing episodes of binging and a feeling of loss of control, BED is also associated with co-existing mental health issues like depression, chronic pain, obesity, and diabetes.

For the analysis published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill evaluated data from nine studies of psychological treatments for BED and 25 medication trials.

According to the report, the disorder can be effectively combated with a common form of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy, second-generation antidepressants, or a stimulant known as lisdexamfetamine or Vyvanse.

Not only did these treatment methods help reduce overall binging episodes, the report shows they helped in managing eating-related psychological symptoms such as obsessions and compulsions.

Second-generation anti-depressants also helped reduce levels of depression, while lisdexamfetamine was linked with reductions in weight during treatment. However, both medications were also linked to negative side effects like nervousness, sweating, and increased heart rate. In contrast, severe side-effects were extremely minimal.

“Our review shows promising signs in today’s medical evidence base for both psychological and medication interventions,” said Kim Brownley, Ph.D., associate professor at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders and lead author on the paper. “Additional studies are needed for examining approaches to providing psychological treatments to patients who have limited access to BED-trained psychotherapists, treatments that combine psychological interventions and medications, and longer term outcomes of care.”

While the findings provide hope for many suffering from binge-eating disorder, the authors also noted several limitations of the study.

As Nancy Berkman, Ph.D., senior research analyst at RTI and co-author of the paper, noted: “despite the positive findings about successful options for BED patients, how well the results can be applied may be limited for some populations. Current research often did not include men; adults over 40 years of age; racial and ethnic minorities; individuals with various coexisting medical conditions; and those with higher levels of depression and anxiety. Also, although binge eating is implicated as a treatment-limiting factor in bariatric surgery patients, we found no treatment studies in this population.”

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