People with recurring episodes of binge-eating can be helped with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or medication, according to a new review of previous studies.

People with binge-eating disorder have brief, psychologically distressing binge-eating episodes multiple times a week for at least three months. The disorder is linked to mental health problems, chronic pain, obesity and diabetes, the researchers write in Annals of Internal Medicine, online.

Binge-eating disorder will affect about three per cent of people in the US during their lifetimes, according to lead author Kimberly Brownley, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her colleagues.

Brownley’s team analysed data from nine studies of psychological treatments and 25 studies of medications in patients with binge-eating disorder.

CBT, second-generation antidepressants and the amphetamine lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse) all helped reduce binge-eating, the researchers found. The medications also reduced obsessions and compulsions related to the disorder.

Treatments are available and people don’t have to suffer through the disorder alone

CBT can teach people to identify thoughts associated with binge-eating, and help them change their behaviours, Brownley said. Additionally, lisdexamfetamine and second-generation antidepressants can help decrease people’s impulses to eat.

The study can’t prove whether one second-generation antidepressant is better than the others, however.

“We can’t say if any of these treatments is fundamentally better than the other,” Brownley said.

“There have been no head-to-head (comparisons) and that’s really essential.”

The review shows, however, that treatments are available and people don’t have to suffer through the disorder alone, she added. In an editorial accompanying the review, Michael Devlin, of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City says doctors can have a hard time recognising binge-eating disorder.

“Greater than expected weight dissatisfaction, large weight fluctuations, and depressive symptoms in individuals of any size all should raise the practitioner’s index of suspicion,” he suggests.

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