Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by low weight, fear of gaining weight, and a strong desire to be thin, resulting in food restriction. Many people with anorexia see themselves as overweight even though they are in fact underweight.1 The cause is not known. There appear to be some genetic components with identical twins more often affected than non-identical twins.2 Cultural factors also appear to play a role with societies that value thinness having higher rates of disease. Additionally, it occurs more commonly among those involved in activities that value thinness such as high-level athletics, modelling, and dancing.3
The Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment of anorexia nervosa generally involves arriving at the appropriate TCM diagnosis or pattern. This pattern within the individual is what treatment is based on not the general condition. The following five patterns may represent the underlying contributing factors for the development of anorexia nervosa:4
-Spleen Qi Deficiency: characterized by poor appetite, distention after eating, weakness of the four limbs, fatigue and loose stools. The following 11 acupuncture points should be stimulated: SI-6, SP-3, SP-5, SP-6, ST-21, ST-31, ST-32, ST-33, ST-34, ST-36, BL-20.
-Spleen and Stomach Damp Heat: characterized by epigastric a/or abdominal oppression, lack of appetite, heavy body, thirst with little/no desire to drink, abdominal pain, loose stools with strong odor possibly w/burning anus, nausea, vomiting, fever and headache. The following 7 acupuncture points should be stimulated: SP-2, SP-4, ST-22, ST-44, BL-18, BL-20, BL-22.
-Stomach Food Stagnation: characterized by vomiting, regurgitation, belching, epigastric pain and/or distention, lack of appetite and insomnia. The following 7 acupuncture points should be stimulated: KD-18, KD-21, ST-30, ST-34, ST-37, BL-21, BL-22.
-Spleen Blood Deficiency: characterized by being tired, physically, and also desire to rest and sleep, including dizziness, palpitations, reduced appetite, poor concentration, poor memory, insomnia and tendency towards anxiety. The following four acupuncture points should be stimulated: SI-6, ST-36, ST-37, BL-20.
-Stomach Qi Deficiency: characterized by poor appetite, lack of taste, dull sensation in the epigastrium, weak limbs, tiredness and loose stools. The following four acupuncture points should be stimulated: ST-12, ST-21, ST-30, BL-21.
Another treatment involves stimulating the following points: LI-4, ST-36, PC-6, LV-3, GB-34, twice a week for the first 3 weeks, followed by weekly treatment for three weeks. Complementary therapies such as acupuncture show promise as an adjunctive therapy in improving co-morbidities such as depression and anxiety levels among people with anorexia nervosa, by strengthening mind, body and overall well-being. Therefore, acupuncture should not be seen as a primary treatment for anorexia but it can be an effective complementary therapy.5
- Eating Disorders – nimh.nih.gov – 2016, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
- Anorexia Nervosa: Current Status and Future Directions – annualreviews.org – 2010, http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.med.050208.200745
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) – psychiatryonline.org – 2013, https://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/book/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
- Chinese Herbal and Acupuncture Treatment Protocols for Anorexia Nervosa – yinyanghouse.com – 2010, https://theory.yinyanghouse.com/conditions-treated/alternative-natural-options-for-anorexia-nervosa
- Acupuncture and Acupressure and Massage Health Outcomes for Patients with Anorexia Nervosa – liebertpub.com – 2014, http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2013.0142