Monthly Archives: August 2014

Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia affect one to two percent of women between the ages of 12 and 18. About five percent of anorexics are male. Holistic doctors believe that a zinc deficiency may contribute to these conditions, but psychological considerations are also important. Frequently there is a difficult mother-daughter relationship. In addition to being obsessed with the idea of being fat, there can be a great fear of growing up. About half of anorexics develop bulimia, which is characterized by binge eating followed by purging through induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, extreme dieting, or fasting. Bulimics usually have abnormal hunger sensations and then induce vomiting. They also over-exercise, leading to general depletion of nutrients and energy.

Symptoms of anorexia or bulimia can include swollen neck, erosion of the teeth due to excessive vomiting, underweight, weakness, cessation of menstruation and low pulse rate and blood pressure. Because laxatives deplete the body of potassium, these individuals also experience irregular heartbeat and even heart failure. Thirty percent of anorexics struggle with the disease all their lives and the same number experience at least one life-threatening episode.

Self Help       

  • Withdraw from junk food slowly
  • Consider protein powders
  • Supplement with multivitamins and minerals such as potassium, selenium and zinc. Try to get at least 1,800 to 5,600 mg per day of potassium in food or supplement form. Take vitamin B12 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day to improve mood
  • Use acidophilus/bifidus supplements to improve balance of intestinal microflora
  • Take herbs such as fennel and ginger to stimulate the appetite

Western Treatments

The first goal of treatment is getting back to a healthy weight.  Dieticians and other healthcare providers can design an eating plan to help the patient achieve a healthy weight, normal eating habits and good nutrition. The patient’s family will also likely be involved in helping him or her maintain healthy eating habits.

Psychotherapy involves talking about eating disorders with a mental health provider. There’s evidence that psychotherapy helps improve symptoms of eating disorders. These types or therapy can be beneficial:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy to help identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and replace them with healthy, positive ones.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy, which addresses difficulties in close relationships, helping improve communication and problem-solving skills.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy to help learn behavioral skills to tolerate stress, regulate emotions and improve relationships with others – all of which can reduce the desire to binge eat.
  • Family-based treatment to help parents intervene to stop their teenager’s unhealthy eating behaviors, then to help the teen regain control over his or her own eating and to help with the family deal with the problems the eating disorder can have on the teen’s development and the family.
  • Group therapy gives the patient a way to connect with others facing eating disorders. Informal support groups may sometimes be helpful.

A Treatment in TCM Diagnosis

A 24-year-old student had a 10-year history of bulimia. Her weight fluctuated between 104 and 190 pounds. When she was seen at our clinic, she weighed 150 pounds. She was a vegetarian, so to elevate her energy level, she consumed sugar and sweets. Her pulse was weak and her tongue had a yellow coating. Because she also had PMS, a vegetarian protein powder, a formula with bupleurum root, White Peony root and salvia root, along with other herbs and another formula with siler root, rose hips fruit, zinc citrate and other herbs, was recommended. She was also referred to a hypnotherapist to help improve her self-esteem. After two weeks, she reported more energy than she ever had before.

Adhesions and Obstructions

Adhesions are fibrous bands or scars that affect the small intestine. They result from prolonged infection, prolonged inflammation, or may follow surgery. The scar tissue can disrupt the rhythmic contractions that move partially digested food through the intestine. Spasmodic pain may arise and the intestine may become obstructed.

Signs and symptoms of intestinal obstruction include:

  • Crampy abdominal pain that comes and goes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Inability to have a bowel movement or to pass gas
  • Swelling of the abdomen

Untreated intestinal obstructions can cause serious, life-threatening complications, such as tissue death and infection. Intestinal obstruction can cut off blood supply to part of the intestine and the lack of blood causes the intestinal wall to die. Tissue death can result in a tear in the intestinal wall, which can lead to infection.

Self Help

If you have a partial obstruction, which some food and fluid can still get through, your doctor may recommend a special low-fiber diet that is easier for your partially blocked intestine to process. If the obstruction does not clear on its own, you may need surgery to relieve the obstruction.

Western Treatments

Exploratory or laparoscopic surgery can remove the adhesions, but recurrence is common. Herbs may be helpful in resolving the scar tissue and obstruction, as in regulating intestinal function.  If you do decide to undergo such therapy, you should be supervised by a health professional.

A Case Study in TCM Treatment

A 43-year-old woman who had undergone surgery for adhesions of the colon experienced severe abdominal pain and constipation following the procedure. A traditional Chinese diagnosis found that her pulse was sinking, wiry and her tongue was dry.

It was recommended the patient take an herbal mixture containing salvia root, lonicera flower, ilex root, gingko leaf extract and other choice herbs three times daily. After two weeks, the patient had significantly less pain and constipation.