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Olanzapine for Anorexia: A Promising Treatment Both Systemically & Intranasally (2023 Study)

Anorexia nervosa (AN), a severe mental disorder characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image, remains a formidable challenge in psychiatric treatment.

Recent research has shone a light on the potential of olanzapine, an atypical antipsychotic, in offering new hope through both systemic and innovative intranasal administration methods in animal models.

A new study with an activity-based anorexia (ABA) framework, provides critical insights into potential therapeutic strategies that could revolutionize care for those battling this life-threatening condition.


  1. Olanzapine’s Role in Anorexia Nervosa Treatment: Despite mixed clinical results, olanzapine is increasingly used off-label for AN treatment, showing promise in reducing irrational food-related fears and hyperactivity.
  2. Innovative Delivery Methods: Recent studies have investigated both systemic and intranasal administration of olanzapine in rats, revealing significant reductions in hyperactivity and potential benefits in weight management.
  3. Activity-Based Anorexia (ABA) Model: The ABA model mimics key aspects of AN, including hypophagia and hyperactivity, serving as a crucial tool for evaluating treatment efficacy in a controlled environment.
  4. Potential for Intranasal Administration: Intranasal olanzapine shows rapid effects in reducing locomotor activity, suggesting a novel, patient-friendly approach to managing acute symptoms of AN.

Source: European Neuropsychopharmacology (2023)

Olanzapine for Anorexia Nervosa: Mechanisms of Action

Olanzapine, an atypical antipsychotic, has shown promise in treating anorexia nervosa (AN) through its multifaceted impact on neurotransmitter systems, behavioral responses, and metabolic processes.

While its use in AN is off-label, understanding the specific mechanisms by which olanzapine may alleviate symptoms of AN provides insights into its therapeutic potential.

Neurotransmitter Modulation

  • Dopamine & Serotonin Regulation: Olanzapine exerts a broad-spectrum antagonism of dopamine D2 and serotonin 5-HT2A receptors, which are crucial in regulating mood, anxiety, and reward pathways. By modulating these pathways, olanzapine can potentially reduce the anxiety and dysphoria associated with food intake and body image in AN, mitigating one of the core psychological barriers to recovery.
  • Impact on Reward & Motivation: The antagonism of serotonin and dopamine receptors may also recalibrate the reward system, which is often skewed in AN. This adjustment can help normalize eating behaviors and reduce the compulsive exercise patterns by altering the perceived rewards associated with these activities.

Behavioral & Psychological Effects

  • Reduction in Hyperactivity: By modulating neurotransmitter systems, olanzapine can decrease the hyperactivity often observed in AN patients. This effect may be partly due to its action on dopaminergic pathways, which are implicated in motor activity and motivation, leading to a reduction in excessive physical activity and potentially interrupting the cycle of over-exercise and energy expenditure.
  • Anxiety & Obsessions: Olanzapine’s broad receptor profile allows it to alleviate the intense anxiety and obsessive thoughts related to food and body image in AN. By dampening the overactive neural circuits involved in anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors, olanzapine can help patients achieve a more balanced psychological state, conducive to recovery.

Metabolic & Appetite Effects

  • Influence on Appetite & Weight Gain: Olanzapine is known to promote weight gain in patients treated for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, an effect that can be beneficial in the context of AN. This effect is likely mediated through its antagonistic action on the histamine H1 and serotonin 5-HT2C receptors, which play roles in appetite regulation and energy balance. The resultant increase in appetite and food intake can support weight restoration in AN patients.
  • Regulation of Energy Homeostasis: Beyond increasing appetite, olanzapine may influence metabolic pathways, altering energy homeostasis. While the exact mechanisms remain under investigation, olanzapine’s impact on insulin sensitivity, lipid metabolism, and adipogenesis may contribute to its ability to promote weight gain and address the metabolic dysregulation seen in AN.

(Related: Top 10 Pharma Drugs & Medications Causing Weight Gain 2012-2021)

Major Findings: Intranasal Olanzapine in Rat Models of Anorexia (2023)

Karlijn L Kooij et al. evaluated the effects of olanzapine (of different dosages and formats) in animal models of anorexia – below are the specific findings.

1. Systemic Administration Effects

  • Reduced Running Wheel Activity: A notable decrease in wheel running activity was observed with systemic olanzapine administration at doses of 2.75 and 7.5 mg/kg. This suggests a dose-dependent efficacy of olanzapine in mitigating hyperactivity, a core symptom of AN.
  • Adipose Tissue Mass: The highest dose tested, 7.5 mg/kg, resulted in a significant increase in relative adipose tissue mass. This outcome indicates olanzapine’s potential in counteracting the severe weight loss seen in AN, albeit without affecting overall body weight in the study’s context.
  • Food Intake & Body Temperature: Across the systemic administration doses, no significant changes were reported in food intake or body temperature. This highlights a specific action of olanzapine on activity levels without directly influencing other physiological parameters related to AN.

2. Intranasal Administration Effects

  • Immediate Reduction in Hyperactivity: Intranasal administration of olanzapine at both 1 and 2.75 mg/kg doses led to a rapid decrease in running wheel activity, particularly noticeable in the first two hours following administration. This immediate effect underscores the potential of intranasal olanzapine in acutely managing the hyperactivity observed in AN.
  • Body Weight Increase: Intranasal olanzapine-treated rats exhibited an increase in body weight by the end of the ABA phase, a critical finding given the challenge of weight gain in AN treatment. This increase occurred without significant alterations in food intake, suggesting that olanzapine may influence metabolic or other physiological processes contributing to weight management.
  • Body Temperature: A decrease in body temperature was observed shortly after intranasal olanzapine administration. This effect, particularly in the initial hours, aligns with known pharmacodynamic properties of olanzapine, including its impact on thermoregulation.

3. Comparative Insights

  • Activity vs. Metabolic Effects: The study delineates olanzapine’s ability to reduce hyperactivity across administration routes while highlighting distinct metabolic effects, particularly with systemic administration at higher doses.
  • Dose-Dependent Responses: The findings suggest a dose-dependent response to olanzapine, with higher doses required for systemic administration to impact adipose tissue mass and lower doses via intranasal administration effectively reducing hyperactivity and influencing body weight.
  • Rapid vs. Sustained Effects: Intranasal administration offers a rapid onset of action, beneficial for acute management of hyperactivity and potentially aiding in critical moments of anxiety around food intake. In contrast, systemic administration provides a sustained release that may be more suited for long-term management of activity levels and weight stabilization.

(Related: Zyprexa/Olanzapine & Weight Gain)

Intranasal Olanzapine in Rat Models of Anorexia Nervosa (2023 Study)

The study aimed to evaluate the effects of olanzapine administered both systemically and intranasally on key behavioral and physiological parameters in the activity-based anorexia (ABA) model, aiming to mimic aspects of anorexia nervosa (AN) in rats.


  • Subjects: Utilized female outbred WU rats.
  • Experimental Phases: Included acclimatization, surgery for transmitter implantation, habituation to running wheel cages, and the ABA phase with restricted food access and ad libitum running wheel access for seven days.
  • Olanzapine Administration: Systemic administration via osmotic minipumps at doses of 1, 2.75, and 7.5 mg/kg; intranasal administration at doses of 1 and 2.75 mg/kg, 2 hours before the onset of the dark phase.
  • Measurements: Body weight, food intake, wheel running activity, body temperature, and adipose tissue mass.


  • Systemic Administration: Olanzapine at 2.75 and 7.5 mg/kg significantly reduced running wheel activity. The 7.5 mg/kg dose notably increased adipose tissue mass without altering body weight, food intake, or body temperature.
  • Intranasal Administration: Both 1 and 2.75 mg/kg doses effectively decreased running wheel activity and body temperature shortly after administration. Rats treated intranasally exhibited an increase in body weight at the study’s end without significant changes in food intake or total wheel revolutions.
  • Overall Findings: Olanzapine demonstrates potential benefits in managing AN symptoms in the ABA model, chiefly by modulating hyperactivity, through both systemic and intranasal routes.


  • Sex Specificity: The study’s focus on female rats may limit the applicability of findings across genders.
  • Model Constraints: The ABA model, while relevant, may not capture the full complexity of AN in humans.
  • Duration: The ABA phase’s short duration (7 days) may not reflect the chronic nature of AN or long-term treatment effects.
  • Psychological Impacts: The study did not assess potential psychological effects of olanzapine, such as changes in anxiety or food-related fears.
  • Intranasal Administration in Humans: Further research is needed to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of intranasal olanzapine in clinical settings.

Potential Advantages of Intranasal Olanzapine vs. Systemic

The study’s findings on olanzapine administration in the activity-based anorexia (ABA) model underscore several potential advantages of intranasal delivery over systemic routes.

These advantages highlight the unique benefits that could make intranasal olanzapine a particularly promising approach for treating certain symptoms of anorexia nervosa (AN).

Rapid Onset of Action

  • Intranasal Administration: Offers a rapid onset of therapeutic effects, notably reducing hyperactivity within the first few hours post-administration. This immediacy is particularly beneficial for acute symptom management in AN, such as intense episodes of hyperactivity or anxiety around meal times.
  • Systemic Administration: While effective, systemic routes generally have a slower onset of action due to the need for absorption and distribution throughout the body before reaching the central nervous system (CNS).

Direct CNS Delivery

  • Intranasal Route: Bypasses the blood-brain barrier (BBB) more directly, potentially allowing for lower doses to achieve therapeutic effects. This direct pathway to the CNS can reduce systemic exposure and, consequently, the risk of systemic side effects.
  • Systemic Route: Involves broader distribution throughout the body, which can increase the likelihood of systemic side effects and may necessitate higher doses to achieve desired CNS effects due to the BBB.

Reduced Systemic Side Effects

  • Intranasal Delivery: By minimizing systemic circulation of olanzapine, intranasal administration may reduce the risk of systemic side effects associated with olanzapine, such as weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and sedation, which are particularly concerning in the treatment of AN.
  • Systemic Delivery: The risk of systemic side effects is higher, given the widespread distribution of the drug before it exerts its effects on the CNS.

Acceptability & Compliance

  • Intranasal Administration: May be more acceptable to patients, especially those with AN who may have aversions to oral medication due to fear of weight gain or changes in metabolism. The non-invasive, needle-free approach of intranasal delivery could improve treatment compliance and overall acceptability among patients.
  • Systemic Administration: Can be challenging in terms of patient compliance, especially in populations with specific fears or aversions to medication, which are common in AN. Oral medications may also be associated with gastrointestinal side effects, further complicating their use in this patient group.

Versatility & Control

  • Intranasal Administration: Provides the potential for self-administration in response to acute symptoms, offering patients more control over their symptom management. This flexibility can empower patients and tailor treatment to individual needs, potentially enhancing the therapeutic relationship and treatment adherence.
  • Systemic Administration: Generally offers less flexibility in adjusting doses or timing in response to acute symptoms, potentially limiting the ability to manage symptoms dynamically.

Current Treatments for Anorexia Nervosa: Evidence-Based Recommendations and Strategies

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a complex eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image, leading to severe food restriction and malnutrition.

Treatment for AN is multifaceted, aiming to restore healthy eating patterns, achieve a healthy weight, and address psychological issues related to the disorder.

Nutritional Rehabilitation & Weight Restoration

  • Goal: The primary aim is to restore the patient’s weight to a healthy level. This involves close monitoring of nutritional intake, weight, and vital signs, often requiring a multidisciplinary approach including dietitians, physicians, and mental health professionals.
  • Approach: Tailored meal plans and structured eating schedules are used, gradually increasing caloric intake to achieve steady weight gain. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to manage refeeding syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur when reintroducing nutrition to severely malnourished individuals.

Psychological Therapies

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): The most widely studied and effective psychological treatment for AN, focusing on identifying and changing distorted thoughts about weight, body shape, and food, and developing healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Family-Based Therapy (FBT): Particularly effective for adolescents with AN, this approach involves the family in the treatment process, empowering parents to support their child’s recovery by taking control of their eating and weight restoration.
  • Other Therapies: Interpersonal therapy (IPT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) have also been used, focusing on improving interpersonal functioning and managing distress and dysregulated emotions, respectively.


  • Limited Role: There is no medication specifically approved for the treatment of AN. However, antidepressants, antipsychotics (including olanzapine), and mood stabilizers may be prescribed to manage comorbid psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder that often accompany AN.
  • Considerations: Medication is typically considered an adjunct to nutritional and psychological interventions, not a standalone treatment. The decision to use medication must be carefully weighed against potential side effects.

Hospitalization & Specialized Care

  • Indications: Severe malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances, psychiatric comorbidities, or failure to respond to outpatient treatments may necessitate hospitalization or admission to specialized eating disorder programs.
  • Intensive Treatment: Inpatient or residential treatment provides a structured environment where patients can receive medical monitoring, nutritional support, and intensive therapy. Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) or intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) offer a step-down level of care for those transitioning out of inpatient treatment or as an alternative to full hospitalization.

Conclusion: Olanzapine for Anorexia Treatment

The study above presents a promising outlook on the use of olanzapine, administered both systemically and intranasally, in treating animal models of anorexia nervosa.

Intranasal administration, in particular, offers rapid action and potentially fewer systemic side effects, highlighting its suitability for acute symptom management in anorexia nervosa.

While systemic administration showed effectiveness in reducing hyperactivity and influencing adipose tissue mass, the intranasal route’s direct impact on the central nervous system could provide a critical advantage in managing the disorder’s psychological aspects.

These findings underscore the importance of exploring diverse administration routes for psychiatric medications, offering tailored treatment approaches that align with patients’ specific needs and clinical presentations.

The transition from animal models to human application will require careful consideration of formulation, dosage, and delivery mechanisms to ensure safety and efficacy.

In sum, this study enriches the ongoing exploration of therapeutic strategies for anorexia nervosa, paving the way for more personalized and effective treatments.


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