New research has identfied a drug that could help better treat and understand anorexia. A New study may hold the key to the first ever medication designed to treat anorexia. Researchers at the University of Chicago found the anti-psychotic drug olanzapine helps prevent anorexic behavior in mice. While this is only an initial study, the results are promising. In low doses, the drug helped mice maintain their weight despite food restrictions and exercise that would usually promote anorexic behaviors.
If effective, olanzapine may also be an easier pill for ED patients to swallow. One of the problems with current prescription drugs used for anorexia is their side effects.
The studies Co-author, Daniel Le Grange, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience and director of the Eating Disorders Clinic at the University of Chicago Medicine, said one challenge was finding a medication patients with anorexia would agree to take. "Patients are almost uniformly very skeptical and very reluctant to take any medication that could lower their resolve to refrain from eating," he said. "There are long-standing resistances, and I think researchers and clinicians have been reluctant to embark on that course, since it's just littered with obstacles."
With anorexia affecting around 1.6 million people in the UK alone, finding a treatment sufferers are willing to take would be a huge victory both for individuals and treatment centers battling the disease.
"I think the clinical field is certainly very ready for something that is going to make a difference," Le Grange said. "I'm not saying there's a 'magic pill' for anorexia nervosa, but we have been lacking any pharmacological agent that clearly contributes to the recovery of our patients. Many parents and many clinicians are looking for that, because it would make our job so much easier if there was something that could turn symptoms around and speed up recovery."
Scientists are hopeful that they will be able to identify the ingredient in olanzapine that helps treat anorexic behaviors. This would allow them to do more than produce a chemical treatment. By identifying which substance is acting on the brain, it may be possible to isolate the chemical receptors affected by ED and target them more specifically. That means patients would be prescribed a new drug that is designed to for their condition.
That would be a huge leap in the treatment of ED. Currently, most medications used to treat anorexia are ant-psychotics that were designed for other diseases. A new and more targeted drug would not only be more effective, it would lack the stigma of taking an ant-psychotic.
Better still, olanzapine has already been used clinically to supplement interventions and therapies. While its direct effect on anorexic behavior in people or animals has not been sufficiently studied, the fact that it has already been approved for use in humans makes it easier to test. This could speed up the development process and help bring an effective anorexia treatment to market more quickly.