The anti-depressant Prozac and its generic equivalents, often prescribed for patients struggling with anorexia, do not help prevent relapses of the life-threatening eating disorder, a study said on Tuesday.
The finding came from a test involving 93 women with anorexia nervosa who were discharged after regaining a healthy weight. Some were then given fluoxetine — the anti-depressant originally sold as Prozac — and others an inert placebo.
After a year there was "absolutely no difference" in the relapse rate between the two groups, said B. Timothy Walsh, a physician at New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University Medical Center, chief author of the study, with over half of both groups again suffering the problem.
Earlier studies have found that a third to a half of patients with anorexia suffer a relapse within one year after they are discharged from a hospital with a healthy weight, the report said, and a substantial number are given antidepressants to help prevent that.
Anorexia, which primarily afflicts young women, is marked by an extreme fear of becoming overweight that leads to excessive dieting, poor health and sometimes death.
"The present findings, coupled with those of previously published studies, indicate that the common practice of prescribing antidepressant medication is unlikely to provide substantial benefit for most patients with anorexia nervosa, either when they are underweight or immediately upon weight restoration," concluded the report published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.
Instead, the authors said, therapy should concentrate on "psychological and behavioral interventions for which there is some, albeit modest, evidence of efficacy."
Prozac was developed by Eli Lilly and Co. but is now widely available as fluoxetine in generic versions since Lilly's patent has expired.