Newsflash—ADHD Meds Can Stop Binge Eating
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Newsflash—ADHD Meds Can Stop Binge Eating


This post was originally published on January 23, 2018.

Here’s a who-would-have-thought for you: a new study reveals that a drug used to treat ADHD might help binge eating disorder sufferers.

Still, we should probably take this news with the proverbial grain of salt since the study was conducted by Shire Development LLC— i.e. the pharmaceutical company that developed the drug. But here’s the deal: the drug is called Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate), it’s a Schedule II amphetamine and it may help those with eating disorders put down the Haagen Daaz and Dunkin Donuts for good.

The Current Drugs for Binge Eating Disorder Suck

Binge Eating Disorder was just acknowledged as a legitimate mental disor¢der within the psychiatric community in 2013. Symptoms include excessive eating (shocker) coupled with psychological upset surrounding the eating—think temptation, guilt, shame, rage—in addition to weight gain and obesity.

So far, doctors have sometimes used epilepsy drugs to help curb sufferers’ appetites, but these drugs come with not-so-insignificant side effects, like cognitive impairment—basically, your brain slugs and you act a bit stupid. Jury still out on whether or not this is an improvement over binge eating.

High Dose Helped

The Vyvanse study consisted of 260 people, all diagnosed with binge eating disorder and between the ages of 18 and 55. None of the participants had a history of ADHD, anorexia, bulimia or any other psychiatric disorder.

They were divided into four groups. One received placebo pills, another 30 milligrams of Vyvanse a day, another 50 and still another 70. While the 30 milligram dose didn’t do jack shit, the drug was effective at curbing binge eating for the 50 and 70 milligram groups.

The authors of the study insist that research is still ongoing and their findings are preliminary. So, with no FDA approval pending, we’re not going to have docs writing prescriptions for the drug any time soon (unless it’s, um, for ADHD).

Bad Reviews

Despite the success of the drug at higher doses, plenty of psychiatric professionals are wary of using the drug to treat the disorder.

Some, like Dr. Suzanne Mazzeo, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, don’t think any medication is the best way treatment option for binge eating disorder. She feels a mix of CBT and other psychological tools works best to help people deal with triggers and respond in healthier ways than drowning their sorrows in cupcakes.

Eating disorder specialist Dr. Douglas Klamp, while not against meds as a treatment option, thinks the side effects of Vyvanse are awfully risky, noting the drug is “highly addictive” and associated with risk of heart attack and stroke. Also worth taking into consideration: 85% of study participants reported some type of unpleasant side effect, including high blood pressure, palpitations, insomnia and feeling jittery. Klamp said he wouldn’t touch Vyanse for binge eaters “unless unbiased researchers did a study of at least six months duration showing continued effectiveness, a low rate of addiction, and very few life-threatening reactions.”

On that note, one participant in the study died while testing out the drug. Apparently this person was also taking another amphetamine, so the authors of the study didn’t attribute the death to Vyanse. Still, this not the best PR.

No Shit Sherlock

Here’s my take: of course a Schedule II amphetamine like Vyvanse will reduce binge eating disorder—that’s what amphetamines do! Anyone who’s taken an upper knows it cuts your appetite in half, if it doesn’t obliterate it altogether. And we all know amphetamines amp up your metabolism, making it easy to drop pounds.

Maybe if Vyvanse wasn’t addictive and a potential cause of heart attacks and strokes it would be a miracle drug—eating disorders are notoriously tough to treat, even with 12-step programs and therapy. But hey, once upon a time Dexatrim was considered a miracle drug too.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.