Both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and food addiction are serious mental health issues that affect…
Estrogen Changes Make Women Susceptible to Binge Eating Disorder
Altered estrogen function is a significant contributing factor to women’s chances of developing binge eating disorder, according to recent findings from a team of American and Chinese researchers.
Women develop binge eating disorder, the most common eating-related mental health condition in the U.S., substantially more often than men. In a study published in late 2014 in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers from nine American and Chinese institutions explored the role that altered estrogen processing inside women’s bodies plays in creating this gender imbalance. The researchers also explored the possibility of using some form of estrogen treatment to help women affected by binge eating disorder.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder affects more people than bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa or any other form of eating disorder, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports. The condition, only officially recognized in its current form by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, centers on symptoms related to periodic episodes of food binging. People with bulimia also binge on food; however, unlike people dealing with that condition, people dealing with binge eating disorder don’t follow up their bouts of excessive food consumption with steps designed to eliminate the calories they have consumed. In addition to participation in short episodes of heavy food intake, the hallmark of binge eating disorder is a self-perceived inability to set limits on food consumption. Additional indications of the condition include self-directed negative feelings in the aftermath of binging episodes, the continuation of eating well past the point of feeling full, intake of food when hunger is not an issue and a tendency to hide binging behaviors by eating solo.
In the U.S., women have a roughly 75 percent higher chance of developing binge eating disorder than men. In addition, while affected men typically first experience symptoms of the condition in mid-adulthood, affected women typically experience their first symptoms in their late teens or 20s. Fully 66-plus percent of all people with binge eating disorder qualify as obese under accepted public health guidelines.
Women and Estrogen
Estrogen is the main gender-specific sex hormone in girls and women. The hormone plays a critical role in women’s reproduction by helping to control various phases of the monthly menstrual cycle. Estrogen is also responsible for producing the female-specific body changes associated with puberty. In addition, the hormone helps maintain the health and daily function of structures, organs and organ systems that include the cardiovascular system, the skin, the muscles and their associated bones, the mucous membranes and the brain. Natural and abnormal changes in estrogen levels are known to increase women’s risks for a number of mental and physical health issues, including depression and the bone disease osteoporosis.
Impact on Binge Eating Susceptibility
In the study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers from China’s Wuhan Polytechnic University and Huazhong University of Sciences and Technology, and American institutions including the Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Indiana University used laboratory experiments on mice to explore the impact that altered estrogen production and processing has on the odds that any given woman will develop binge eating disorder. The researchers centered their exploration on estrogen’s ability to trigger the release of a brain chemical called serotonin, which plays a critical role in human mood control.
During their lab experiments, the researchers drastically reduced the normal estrogen levels in a group of female mice by removing the animals’ ovaries. Many of these mice subsequently developed binge eating-like behavior when given open access to a food supply. Next, the researchers injected the same group of animals with an estrogen-enhancing substance. They concluded that, when this substance reached the animals’ brains, it significantly increased serotonin production. In turn, increased production of this chemical led to a steep downturn in binge eating behaviors.
Based on their findings, the study’s authors concluded that altered estrogen function likely contributes heavily to the onset of binge eating disorder in at least some women. The success of the methods used to introduce estrogen into the mice also convinced the authors that it’s theoretically possible to use a form of estrogen-enhancing therapy to help women with binge eating disorder stabilize their mental health and recover control over their eating behaviors.