JUL 16, 2015 11:29 PM PDT

Ovarian Hormones, Genetic Risk and Binge Eating

Why do some women seem to be insatiably hungry, especially at certain times? How does a complex relationship between genes, hormones and social factors lead to eating disorders in women? What can be done to treat binge eating? A study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine and reported in both Futurity and Science Daily, weighs in on the subject (http://feedly.com/i/subscription/feed/http://www.futurity.org/feed/)
(http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150715212214.htm).
Genes, hormones and social factors interact in women's binge eating.
Kelly Klump, who is a professor of psychology at Michigan State University and an eating disorder expert, has made significant progress in figuring out how these factors interact. In her new study, she has determined that during the menstrual cycle, ovarian hormones act like a master conductor to turn genetic risk on and off in the body. Other researchers from Michigan State, Florida State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and University of Virginia contributed to the study. It was funded by the National Institute for Mental Health.

As Klump explains, "Our previous studies were some of the first to examine shifts in eating disorder risk across the menstrual cycle. We found that changes in ovarian hormones drive increases in binge eating and emotional eating across the cycle, which can be highly problematic for women, particularly since the cycle reoccurs monthly."

The researchers believe that they have some answers about why and how this situation transpires. They explain that ovarian hormones "act on genes within the brain and body to trigger physical changes in the body." These hormones have the ability to change genes that stimulate psychological symptoms in women, such as emotional eating.

According to Klump, "Not only did rates of emotional eating change across the menstrual cycle, but also the degree to which genes influenced eating patterns changed as well. This increase in genetic effects was remarkable considering that it occurs over the course of just days, not months or years. Following the same sample of women across the menstrual cycle, we found that the influence of genes on a binge eating behavior was up to four times higher in the high risk phases of the menstrual cycle than the low risk phases."

Klump's study elaborates on previous research about genetic influences of eating disorders. Her lab was the first to determine that ovarian hormones have an impact on genetic risk for psychiatric disorders in women.

Armed with this knowledge, treatment providers can now figure out the exact days within a patient's cycle in which the risk of such behaviors is greatest, enabling them to provide more targeted treatment options. Klump believes that the same types of genetic effects could be a factor in other disorders, such as depression and anxiety, that happen more often in women.

Klump concludes, "This may be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the role of ovarian hormones in genetic risk for mental illness."
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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