The use of herbal remedies by adolescents with eating disorders

Int J Eat Disord. 2004 Mar;35(2):223-8. doi: 10.1002/eat.10248.


Objective: To determine the frequency and type of herbal remedies and the reasons for herbal remedy use by adolescents with eating disorders.

Methods: Forty-six female adolescent females (age range, 10-17 years; mean age, 15 +/- 1.3 years) in a tertiary-care pediatric eating disorder treatment center from May 1998 to July 2000 volunteered for this cross-sectional study. They met the criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or eating disorder not otherwise specified. Participants completed a 92-item self-administered questionnaire. We summarized information on demographics, use of herbal remedies, knowledge of safety issues of herbal remedies, and trust in the health care system.

Results: Of these 46 subjects, 17 (37%) used herbal remedies. Of these 17 subjects, 35% (6 of 17) used herbal remedies to decrease their appetites and to induce vomiting, 41% (7 of 17) knew nothing about herbal remedies, despite their use of these products, and 24% (4 of 17) reported that their physicians asked whether they used herbal remedies. The participants did not use herbal remedies because of their dissatisfaction with allopathic medicine.

Discussion: Adolescents with eating disorders frequently used herbal remedies for both weight control and non-weight control purposes. They did not regularly inform their physicians about their use of herbal remedies and physicians did not regularly inform their patients about this use. The generally high prevalence of herbal remedy use in this population suggests that health care providers need to be knowledgeable and should enquire about patients' use of these products. The perceived benefits, adverse effects, and herb-drug interactions of self-prescribed herbal remedies consumed by adolescents with eating disorders are unknown and further research is needed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Phytotherapy / methods*
  • Plants, Medicinal*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires