A drug may help those suffering from bulimia, a condition notoriously difficult to treat.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota suspect that repeated vomiting -- which bulimics bring on to purge their bodies of food they've eaten -- causes hyperactivity in a set of nerves called the afferent vagal circuits, which are responsible for telling the brain that the stomach is full.
In a small study, the researchers looked at ondansetron, a chemotherapy drug used to reduce vomiting and nausea by blocking activity in those nerves.
Twenty-five women with bulimia were divided into two groups. One got a placebo pill and one got ondansetron, which they took whenever they felt an urge to binge-eat or vomit.
After four weeks, researchers reported in the March 4 issue of the Lancet, women getting the drug had significantly fewer episodes of binging and vomiting than the placebo group-an average of 6.5 times per week compared with 13.2 times.
The women on the drug also increased the number of normal meals and snacks they could eat without vomiting.
The study was small and short, but given the paucity of effective treatments for bulimia, it may gain a foothold.
The eating disorder -- estimated to affect 2 million to 3 million young women -- presents a difficult treatment problem.
Patients are often given antidepressants and psychotherapy. But 20 percent to 50 percent of patients still have symptoms after five years.
Researchers noted, however, that this approach might be dangerous for patients who are controlling their depression with the class of antidepressants that includes Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil.
Previous reports have suggested taking ondansetron may cause a setback in the depression treatment.
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