There is also some promising research that suggests there may be more directly helpful medications to treat anorexia in the future.
Can Medications Help Treat Anorexia?
Therapy is currently the best way to treat anorexia, as there is no medication yet known to directly treat anorexia. However, medications can be used to treat certain symptoms and mental health issues that many people with anorexia struggle with, such as depression and anxiety.
Because of this, medications can be used as valid supplementary treatments for anorexia. They have the potential to improve a patient’s overall quality of life when used as part of a comprehensive treatment program that includes therapy.
There is some evidence, but a lack of robust evidence, that some medications may be helpful in other ways for people who have anorexia or are in recovery.  For example, antidepressants may help sustain weight gain in patients who experience treatment success, and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medications may help reduce a person’s anxiety when eating.
Why Medications May Not Work
One important element of treating anorexia with medication that some researchers claim is understudied is how malnourished bodies absorb drugs. Because of the nature of anorexia, many patients who have it are malnourished and underweight. However, some drugs can be less effective if a person is low on the relevant nutrients.
Patients who frequently vomit, overhydrate, or are dehydrated may also absorb medication differently than is traditionally expected.
A few drugs, such as lithium carbonate, have been considered as potentially able to treat certain symptoms of anorexia, but their prescription is still considered overall inadvisable due to other traits associated with the medications. One major concern is certain drugs that are highly toxic in significant doses, particularly since anorexia is associated with electrolyte imbalances and kidney issues.
FDA-Approved Medications for Anorexia
As of right now, the FDA has not approved any medications specifically for treating anorexia. The equivalent bodies in other countries have also generally not approved any medications for this purpose, although some have approved medications for similar conditions, such as bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. 
There are a few elements that have made it difficult to confirm the efficacy of any medication for the purpose of treating anorexia. For one, we have only begun to understand the nature of the disease relatively recently.
Where it was once widely believed anorexia was primarily caused by one’s environment (namely, the culture a person grows up in), it is now known that there is a significant neurobiological component. Anorexia seems to in part be caused by a person’s genes. Although the exact genes aren’t yet known, certain groups of genes are known to likely play a part in a person’s risk of developing anorexia.
Why There Are No FDA-Approved Medicines
Research into eating disorders (EDs) and anorexia specifically is ongoing. There are some drugs researchers think have the potential to treat these conditions. Recent strides in the overall understanding of EDs have many researchers hopeful, although it is important to temper these expectations. Researching eating disorder treatments can be difficult as recovery can take a long time, even if a particular treatment proves helpful.
Some medications that were thought to potentially help with certain aspects of anorexia were later found to have made no or only a very small difference when compared to placebos in trials. As one example, antidepressants were shown to only have a very small and likely clinically insignificant difference in improving weight gain compared to placebos. Antipsychotics and antihistamines seem to have made even less of a difference.
Medications Typically Prescribed for Anorexia
Although there aren’t any official medications that are used to treat anorexia, there are some common medications prescribed to treat issues associated with the eating disorder.
Fluoxetine (commonly known by the brand name Prozac) is prescribed semi-regularly to people with anorexia in order to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, which are both common among people with anorexia. 
Notably, there has been some evidence this drug can be helpful in the treatment of certain other EDs, but it does not seem to help with anorexia. At the same time, the reduction of certain symptoms can help improve a patient’s quality of life.
Some side effects associated with fluoxetine, as well as several similar medications, include: 
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
- Sexual dysfunction
- Stuffy nose
- Memory problems
Typically, these symptoms should go away on their own and not be severe. If they last long or a person experiences symptoms that seem serious, they should contact their doctor.
Antipsychotics, Tranquilizers, Antihistamines
Some patients may get prescribed antipsychotic drugs, minor tranquilizers, or antihistamines in an effort to reduce their anxiety levels. Evidence for the help these drugs can provide is more limited. Patients should be cautious if a doctor says this is to promote weight gain, as they are not recommended for that use.
A person may notice their medication at the currently prescribed dose affects them differently as they recover and begin to approach a healthier weight. Sometimes, a person may also build a tolerance when taking the same medication for a long time, needing a higher dose or a different medication to achieve the same effect. If the way your medication affects you seems to have changed, talk to your doctor.
The Importance of Open Communication
The medications typically used to treat symptoms associated with anorexia are prescription medications, meaning you cannot get them without a doctor’s prescription.
If you’re wondering whether medications may be helpful in your anorexia treatment, talk to a medical professional. The medications that may help you will depend on your symptoms. 
A general physician may not know the latest, most effective treatments for anorexia. You may need to talk to a psychiatrist or similar specialist to get the most informed, up-to-date treatment. Oftentimes, you will receive the most comprehensive care when you enroll in a treatment center that is dedicated to caring for people with eating disorders.
Side Effects of Medications
Importantly, it needs to be highlighted that there are many unknowns in how people with eating disorders like anorexia react to specific medications. Even for treatments that are sometimes used, such as fluoxetine, it’s possible there may be some undiscovered side effects. A person with anorexia’s tolerability of treatment, meaning how well they react to a given medication, is simply not fully understood at this time.
Extreme long-term health effects of the few medications sometimes used to help treat symptoms related to anorexia are unlikely, but not impossible. They’re also likely to be less severe if a person talks to their doctor as soon as they notice any significant negative change from taking a medication.
Likewise, there are almost certainly medications that can help either treat anorexia or related symptoms better than some of the options currently in use. There may even be medications that will one day offer comparable help to therapy, although that is less guaranteed.
The Importance of Combining Therapy With Medication
Many people hope for a pharmacological, meaning medication-based, treatment when diagnosed with an eating disorder. This is an understandable desire, as it often isn’t very disruptive to a person’s schedule to pick up medication from a pharmacy and take it on a basic schedule when one compares that to an in-depth therapy-based treatment. However, drugs are simply unable to replace the value of therapy at this time.
Anorexia is a long-term condition that requires help from a mental health professional. Medications may help as a supplemental treatment for people with anorexia, but therapy is essential to a full recovery. 
The cost, availability, and time commitment of different therapy options known to help with anorexia vary, but a person can typically expect a minimum of four therapy sessions a month if they’re seeking to get the most effective treatment for their condition. Oftentimes, people begin with a more intensive type of treatment, such as residential care, where they live at a treatment facility while they stabilize in early recovery.
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- National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK). Eating Disorders: Core Interventions in the Treatment and Management of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders. Leicester (UK): British Psychological Society (UK); 2004. (NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 9.) 6, Treatment and management of anorexia nervosa.