Eating disorders are abnormal eating patterns that have harmful effects on overall health. They can impact social, psychological, and physical well-being. Severe forms can be life-threatening. Eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa—Compulsive diet and exercise to lose weight.
- Bulimia nervosa—A pattern of binge eating and purging to prevent weight gain.
- Binge eating disorder—A pattern of eating more food than normal, with a feeling of loss of control, shame, or guilt. A binge eater may also fast or purge.
Eating disorders are most commonly identified in teenage girls and young adult women, but can occur in men as well. The goal of treatment is to restore physical health, and develop healthy nutrition and exercise habits. The program needs to be tailored to individual needs. It often requires a combination of treatments such as nutritional counseling, mental health counseling, and medications.
When used with standard treatment, some natural therapies may help with recovery. Others may help manage complications.
- Yoga —may help improve eating behavior and body image without affecting weight in anorexia A1,A2
- Zinc —may assist in healthy weight gain, improve immune response, and reduce anxiety and depression in anorexiaB1-B4
- Note: Zinc in high doses (with or without long-term use) is toxic
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) with or without estrogen (hormone replacement supplements)—may increase bone density and mass in anorexiaC1-C2
Herbs and Supplements to Be Used With Caution
Talk to your doctor about all herbs or supplements you are taking. Some may interact with your treatment plan or health conditions.
Zinc is safe if used as directed. High doses are toxic and may cause copper deficiency, impaired immunity, anemia, or other serious problems.
Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.
A1. Carei TR, Fyfe-Johnson AL, Breuner CC, Brown MA. Randomized controlled clinical trial of yoga in the treatment of eating disorders. J Adolesc Health. 2010;26(4):346-351.
A2. Hall A, Ofei-Tenkorang NA, Machan JT, Gordon CM. Use of yoga in outpatient eating disorder treatment: a pilot study. J Eat Disord. 2016;4:38.
B1. Castillo-Duran C, Heresi G, Fisberg M, Uauy R. Controlled trial of zinc supplementation during recovery from malnutrition: effects on growth and immune function. Am J Clin Nutr. 1987;45(3):602-608.
B2. McClain CJ, Stuart MA, Vivian B, et al. Zinc status before and after zinc supplementation of eating disorder patients. J Am Coll Nutr. 1992;11(6):694-700.
B3. Birmingham CL, Goldner EM, Bakan R. Controlled trial of zinc supplementation in anorexia nervosa. 1994;15(3):251-255.
B4. Su JC, Birmingham CL. Zinc supplementation in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. Eat Weight Disord. 2002;7(1):20-22.
C1. Gordon CM, Grace E, Emans SJ, et al. Effects of oral dehydroepiandrosterone on bone density in young women with anorexia nervosa: a randomized trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002;87(11):4935-4941.
C2. Divasta D, Feldman HA, Giancaterino C, Rosen CJ, Leboff MS, Gordon CM. The effect of gonadal and adrenal steroid therapy on skeletal health in adolescents and young women with anorexia nervosa. Metabolism. 2012;61(7):1010-1020.
Last reviewed February 2019 by EBSCO NAT Review Board Richard Glickman-Simon, MD Last Updated: 2/22/2019