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Preventing Eating Disorders

Research on Eating Disorders

Researchers are studying the role of gonadal steroids and their relevance to eating disorders. The connection is suggested by evidence that girls and women are at much higher risk for these disorders; that the disorders tend to emerge at puberty or soon after; and that there is increased risk for eating disorders among girls with early onset of menstruation.

Research on interrupting the binge-eating cycle has shown that once a structured pattern of eating is established, the person experiences less hunger, less deprivation and a reduction in negative feelings about food and eating. The two factors that increase the likelihood of bingeing — hunger and negative feelings — are reduced, which decreases the frequency of binges.

Scientists continue to investigate the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions, medications and the combination of these treatments with the goal of improving outcomes for people with eating disorders.

Researchers are searching for genes that confer susceptibility to eating disorders. Scientists suspect that multiple genes may interact with environmental and other factors to increase the risk of developing these illnesses. Identification of these genes will permit the development of improved treatments.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are investigating the combined use of a growth factor and a medication routinely used to treat postmenopausal osteoporosis as a novel treatment for the bone loss seen in women with anorexia nervosa. Growth factor is natural, nutritionally regulated and greatly reduced in women with anorexia nervosa. This growth factor has been shown to stimulate bone formation in previous studies. Perhaps the combination of these two medications will help rebuild depleted bone and prevent further bone breakdown in women with anorexia nervosa.

Scientists at the Harvard Eating Disorders Center (HEDC) are investigating a possible link between mitral valve prolapse and anorexia nervosa. HEDC is also involved in a multicenter trial investigating the use of the drug fluoxetine in bulimia relapse prevention.

Copyright 2003 National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC
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