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Ipecac can cause death, bulimics warned.

Ipecac Can Cause Death, Bulimics Warned

Although ipecac use is far from epidemic, therapists say that a sizable minority of their bulimic patients -- people who induce vomiting to purge food after going on a binge or off a diet -- admit to using the substance when they are most desperate and other methods seem inadequate. For them it is a way to achieve a complete purging and to punish themselves for eating.

But syrup of ipecac not only promotes bulimia, it also kills. Emetine, the ingredient that triggers the vomit reflex, attaches to the heart muscle, where it can cause cardiac arrest. With repeated use, the ingredient also accumulates in other muscles, causing intense pain and weakness.

Dr. David Roth, a psychologist who directs the eating-disorders program at Baltimore's Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, cited studies showing that 18 to 20 percent of U.S. women have engaged in bulimic behavior and that 3 to 10 percent are hard-core bulimics. An estimated 90 to 95 percent of anorexics and bulimics are women, mostly from middle-class and upper-middle-class families, and most begin practicing bulimia in their teens or 20s.

He said that about 10 per cent of the 150 to 200 anorexic and bulimic patients he sees each year abuse ipecac. Other experts contend that the problem is underestimated because bulimics successfully hide the practice. There is no universal agreement as to restrictions on the sale of ipecac, which is considered an essential treatment in accidental poisonings.
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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