What’s the best way to manage male anorexia?
age (the ideal BMI for adults is 17.5kg/m²)*, although usually emaciation is evident.
It is crucial to ensure the patient is medically stable by assessing heart rate, blood pressure and temperature, checking electrolytes and hormone levels (via blood tests), and doing an ECG (electrocardiograph). If any of these are abnormal, urgent hospital admission is required.
Once the patient is medically stable, treatment may include referral to an eating disorders unit, to a psychiatrist for individual or family therapy and to a dietitian for nutritional rehabilitation. In some cases, medication such as antidepressants may be considered. *Body mass index (BMI) is a weight-for-height index defined by the World Health Organization as the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in metres (kg/m²). For example, an adult who weighs 70kg and whose height is 1.75m will have a BMI of 22.9.
Anorexia is defined as a lack of appetite. What we’re talking about here is anorexia nervosa, the debilitating psychological condition. Some statistics indicate that Australia has some of the worst levels of male anorexia in the world. However, it’s hard to know whether the incidence is actually increasing or whether it is being identified more as people are encouraged to seek help.
Anorexia is a psychological and physical condition. People need to be reviewed and counselled thoroughly and to develop an honest, trusting relationship with their practitioners. The patient, naturopath, GP, dietitian and counsellor must all work together as a team. Once a diagnosis is made and a collaborative care team developed, each practitioner can use their strengths to achieve a positive outcome.
From a naturopathic perspective, the severe nutritional depletion needs to be thoroughly assessed and treated. The most important nutrients are protein for repair and zinc. Several studies show that zinc deficiencies are evident in anorexics. Zinc helps to improve mood and self-perception by regulating brain chemistry; it regulates appetite and improves digestive function, so the person can better absorb nutrients; and it also stabilises hormones, specifically testosterone, which is often deficient in male anorexics.
A simple multivitamin is better than nothing, but key nutrients need to be prescribed in high doses to achieve psychological and physical changes. Working with an experienced practitioner is essential, as is a compassionate, holistic approach.