Prozac, the world’s largest selling antidepressant, has won Food and Drug Administration approval to also treat the eating disorder bulimia.
Many psychiatrists already prescribe Prozac - and other antidepressants - for bulimia. But the FDA’s approval last week makes Prozac the only drug specifically approved for the mental disorder and allows manufacturer Eli Lilly & Co. to advertise the use.
Bulimia strikes about 1 million Americans a year, almost exclusively young women. Believing they are overweight, they binge on food and then induce vomiting to purge themselves. The vicious cycle can lead to dangerous complications, even death.
Prozac already was approved to treat depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It allows the body to keep adequate levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood.
Prozac doesn’t help all bulimics. But in clinical trials, women who took 60 milligrams of Prozac a day for eight weeks experienced on average a 67 percent decrease in binge eating and a 56 percent decrease in vomiting episodes, Lilly said.
The most common side effects were insomnia, nausea and anxiety.
Psychotherapy already is standard treatment for bulimia. And the question now is whether Prozac is best used with psychotherapy or as an alternative, said Dr. Timothy Walsh of Columbia University, who helped test the drug. He starts his patients on psychotherapy and adds Prozac only if they don’t respond quickly enough.