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The treatment of Anorexia nervosa using acupuncture and/or massage.

Anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) are eating disorders characterized by loss of self-control in eating behaviour and disturbed emotions, including high anxiety. These disorders affect 2% to 3% of young women. AN is a serious eating disorder, having the highest mortality rate among psychiatric conditions. It is characterized by chronic self-starvation, amenorrhea, and severe and dangerous weight loss. (1)

Treatment of AN yields mixed results. As it is characterised as a psychiatric disorder it is treated by either a psychiatrist or a psychologist. However, a recent paper has demonstrated that massage and/or acupuncture may be of benefit for people suffering AN.

The Western Sydney study was a randomized controlled trial of acupuncture or massage compared with a control group in an inpatient setting, to examine individuals' experience of the acupuncture or massage treatment and clinical outcomes of the trial, and to integrate data to explain the trial findings.

Twenty-six patients with anorexia nervosa who were medically stable were the subjects and the treatment was delivered twice a week for the first three weeks, followed by weekly treatment for three weeks.

The acupuncture group received acupuncture at the points Hegu (LI4), Zusanli (ST36), Neiguan (PC6), Taichong (LR3), Yanglingquan (GB34), and additional points based on Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis, and the massage group received acupressure and massage. Acupressure involved consciously and gradually directing pressure to the centre of the point being worked on. Clinical outcomes were measured at baseline and at six weeks after completion of the intervention. The primary outcome measure was body-mass index (BMI), and secondary outcomes included eating disorder psychopathology, anxiety, and depression.

Discussion: the great news is that participants given the massage and acupuncture demonstrated reduced eating concerns and greater weight gain, evidenced by increases in their BMI. Participants described both interventions positively, and experienced a sense of calmness and relaxation. This wonderful result demonstrates that along with counselling, medical intervention and proper nutrition, tactile therapies such as acupuncture and massage are viable treatment options. While this is only a pilot (preliminary) study with only 26 people, it shows a promising outcome. Further research is needed to confirm these results. (2)


(1) Smitka K, Papezova H, Vondra K, Hill M, Hainer V, Nedvidkova J. The Role of "Mixed" Orexigenic and Anorexigenic Signals and Autoantibodies Reacting with Appetite Regulating Neuropeptides and Peptides of the Adipose Tissue-Gut-Brain Axis: Relevance to Food Intake and Nutritional Status in Patients with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Int J Endocrinol. 2013;2013:483145.

(2) Smith C, Fogarty S, Touyz S, Madden S, Buckett G, Hay. Acupuncture and Acupressure and Massage Health Outcomes for Patients with Anorexia Nervosa: Findings from a Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial and Patient Interviews. J Altern Complement Med. 2013; 20(2):103-12. doi: 10.1089/acm.2013.0142. Stephen Eddey | Vice President of ATMS

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Title Annotation:MEDIA WATCH
Author:Eddey, Stephen
Publication:Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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