Health & wellbeing

Researchers at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have unveiled a ground-breaking study that holds significant potential for treating anorexia nervosa (AN), a debilitating eating disorder characterized by low body weight, body image concerns, and anxiety.

Published under the title “The impact of floatation therapy on body image and anxiety in anorexia nervosa: a randomized clinical efficacy trial”

in the esteemed peer-reviewed journal eClinicalMedicine, a part of The Lancet Discovery Science initiative, the study brings to light the transformative effects of Floatation-REST (Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy) in AN patients.

Floatation-REST, commonly referred to as "float therapy," offers a non-pharmacological approach where individuals float effortlessly in a shallow pool of warm water infused with Epsom salt. This practice takes place within a controlled environment, void of external stimuli like light and sound. Often embraced by the general public as a stress-relief method, this therapy was found to have a significant impact on AN patients.

The research demonstrated that AN inpatients who participated in floatation-REST reported immediate and sustained reductions in body image dissatisfaction and anxiety. This outcome was in stark contrast to a control group of AN inpatients whose symptoms remained unchanged. Impressively, the positive effects on body image persisted even after the treatment period and lasted up to six months.

Dr. Sahib Khalsa, MD, PhD, Director of Clinical Operations at LIBR and senior author of the study, emphasized the groundbreaking nature of the research: “This breakthrough offers a new therapeutic direction in treating anorexia nervosa, a psychiatric disorder known for its challenging prognosis and high mortality rate. Anxiety is a common co-occurrence in anorexia nervosa that does not respond well to standard anxiolytic medications. The large anxiety reductions induced by float therapy in these patients suggest that this tool presents a potent opportunity to treat anxiety via non-pharmacological means in anorexia nervosa."

Co-first author Emily Choquette, PhD, a clinical psychologist and postdoctoral scholar at LIBR, underlined the significance of the findings in expanding treatment avenues: “These findings also make way for new forms of treatment for eating disorders which, in conjunction with traditional treatments, may help to alleviate diagnostic features of AN that are more difficult to treat, such as body image."

Given that anorexia nervosa remains a severe and persistent psychiatric disorder, the quest for effective treatments is ongoing. "This study underscores the importance of continually seeking innovative approaches and broadening the horizons of existing therapeutic options," commented Dr. Scott Moseman, MD, CEDS, Medical Director of the Laureate Eating Disorders Program. "These findings may pave the way for new forms of treatment, such as float-assisted psychotherapy, which aim to further enhance the body image and anxiety improvements obtained via existing evidence-based interventions."

As the search for viable treatments continues, this study signifies a hopeful stride towards a comprehensive approach to treating anorexia nervosa, ultimately improving the quality of life for those affected by this disorder.