Drug for Alzheimer’s May Also Treat Eating Disorders

several hamburgers in line

A drug used to treat Alzheimer’s disease may be able to treat binge eating disorder, according to recent research from Boston University Medical Center (BUSM).

The BUSM research team, led by associate professor of pharmacology and psychiatry Pietro Cottone, Ph.D., found that the neuro-protective drug memantine was able to suppress the impulsive and addictive behaviors associated with binge eating when applied to a certain area of the brain.

Using an experimental model in rats that mimics human binge eating behavior, the researchers discovered that memantine, by blocking receptors in the nucleus accumbens, decreased binge eating, blocked junk food seeking behavior and blocked the compulsivity that leads to binge eating.

Since memantine is already approved as an option for treating Alzheimer’s, Cottone and his fellow researchers are hopeful that the process of approving the drug to treat binge eating disorder could move quickly. In February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first drug to treat BED: lisdexamfetamine dimesylate, which is also used to treat ADHD in the form of Vyvanse.

Binge Eating Disorder Is Not Just Overeating

Binge eating disorder (BED) affects around 8 million people in the United States. Between 3 percent and 5 percent of U.S. women are thought to have BED, along with around 2 percent of U.S. men. This means that men make up approximately 40 percent of BED sufferers; no other eating disorder affects women and men at such similar rates.

BED is much more than just overeating, and it poses a serious public health issue in this country. Like other eating disorders, BED is typically rooted in a negative and distorted body image. For people with BED, food becomes their primary coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety, low self-esteem and stress. Unfortunately, the disorder also fuels these feelings, trapping sufferers in a dysfunctional cycle. BED is also strongly associated with depression.

The hallmarks of BED that distinguish it from simply overeating are the frequent nature of the binge eating episodes, feeling out of control during these episodes and feeling shameful or guilty while binge eating. People with BED also frequently binge despite feeling full and eat to the point of serious discomfort.

Serious Health Consequences

Like bulimia nervosa, BED is associated with repeated and compulsive episodes of uncontrolled overeating. Unlike bulimia, BED does not involve purging after bingeing episodes in order to get rid of the calories consumed during the episodes. As a result, people with BED are much more likely to be overweight or obese and to suffer from health problems associated with being obese.

Obesity-related health problems seen frequently in people with BED include high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, musculoskeletal problems, heart disease and gallbladder disease. A 2013 study published in General Hospital Psychiatry found that obese men who binge eat are even more likely than women to suffer negative physical health problems associated with obesity.

The results of the BUSM study were published online in November 2014 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

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