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/)
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."