Pharmacological Studies in Eating Disorders: A Historical Review

Yael D. Lewis*, Lukas Bergner, Holger Steinberg, Jessica Bentley, Hubertus Himmerich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Eating disorders (EDs) are serious mental health conditions characterised by impaired eating behaviours and nutrition as well as disturbed body image, entailing considerable mortality and morbidity. Psychopharmacological medication is an important component in the treatment of EDs. In this review, we performed a historic analysis of pharmacotherapeutic research in EDs based on the scientific studies included in the recently published World Federation of Societies for Biological Psychiatry (WFSBP) guidelines for ED treatment. This analysis focuses on early approaches and trends in the methods of clinical pharmacological research in EDs, for example, the sample sizes of randomised controlled trials (RCTs). We found the development of psychopharmacological treatments for EDs followed advancements in psychiatric pharmacotherapy. However, the application of RCTs to the study of pharmacotherapy for EDs may be an impediment as limited participant numbers and inadequate research funding impede generalisability and statistical power. Moreover, current medication usage often deviates from guideline recommendations. In conclusion, the RCT model may not effectively capture the complexities of ED treatment, and funding limitations hinder research activity. Novel genetically/biologically based treatments are warranted. A more comprehensive understanding of EDs and individualised approaches should guide research and drug development for improved treatment outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number594
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2024


FundersFunder number
National Institute for Health and Care Research
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust
American National Institute for Mental Health


    • eating disorders
    • history
    • medication
    • psychopharmacology


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