Did you know that in ancient China, eating disorders were considered to be the result of a ghost or demon invading the body? While modern science and medicine have ruled out that root cause, treating an eating disorder is still very much a battle for each patient…one that can be long, arduous and require several different treatment approaches to ultimately triumph.

There are two eating disorders that are most common here in the U.S. – anorexia nervosa (when a patient severely limits food intake) and bulimia nervosa (when a patient binge eats and then purges by inducing vomiting).  Both are serious medical conditions that are best treated by psychological counseling and conventional medical treatment and supervision.

Chinese Medicine and acupuncture can also play a role in supporting eating disorder patients and accelerating their recovery. Specifically, there are three types of symptoms or conditions associated with eating disorders for which Chinese Medicine has been shown to be effective:

Stress

While an eating disorder has outward physical signs, symptoms and hallmarks, the root of the disease is psychological and driven by the patient’s desire to be thin. This unending quest takes a toll on the body, but also on the patient’s stress levels and emotional well-being. A recent study showed that eating disorder patients receiving acupuncture as an adjunctive treatment felt less stress and anxiety.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Eating disorder patients that are not on a regular diet or are struggling to return to a healthier eating regimen may be experiencing GI issues associated with their eating habits. This can result in abdominal bloating, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and acid reflux. A review article in the Journal of Gastroenterology concluded that acupuncture was effective in helping treat GI issues and that “in the future, it is anticipated that acupuncture will be used to treat these [GI] patients in addition to the current therapy. This would also significantly reduce the cost of medical treatment.”

Infertility

Because diet and nutrition are literally the fuel for your body’s engine, eating disorders negatively impact your overall health by weakening all of the body’s systems – cardiac, GI, immune and reproductive. Studies have shown that patients with eating disorders can struggle with infertility later in life.  Studies have also shown that Chinese Medicine and acupuncture can be used to effectively treat infertility, as highlighted in this recent WebMD article about “The Ancient Art of Infertility Treatment.”

Eating disorders are devastating to the patient, as well as his/her family and loved ones. Thankfully, there is an ever-increasing body of research and conventional and alternative treatments available to help patients conquer this disease.