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Ovarian hormones and binge eating in bulimia nervosa

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 12 October 2006

Background. Symptom fluctuation in bulimia nervosa (BN) is related to menstrual cycle phase. However, the relationship between bulimic symptoms and ovarian hormones (estrogens and progesterone) has not been examined directly in women with BN.

Method. Regularly menstruating women with DSM-IV BN (n=9) and regularly menstruating controls (n=8) collected hormone samples and recorded mood and bulimic symptoms daily for 35 consecutive days. Estradiol and progesterone were measured by radioimmunoassay. Within-subject analyses examined prospective longitudinal associations between changes in ovarian hormones and changes in binge frequency in women with BN. Analyses controlled for the possible influence of negative affect on binge frequency as well as the influence of progesterone when examining estradiol associations and the influence of estradiol when examining progesterone associations. Between-subject analyses examined whether women with BN were more likely to have disrupted hormonal profiles than controls.

Results. Increases in binge eating were significantly associated with both decreases in estradiol and increases in progesterone in BN women with intact menstrual cycles. Although BN women were more likely to have disrupted hormone profiles than controls, this difference did not reach statistical significance, and mean estradiol and progesterone levels did not differ between bulimic and control groups.

Conclusions. The results are consistent with those from experimental animal studies and suggest that decreases in estradiol and increases in progesterone may contribute to increases in binge eating. Ovarian hormone function represents a promising candidate for unraveling the neurobiological mechanisms of binge eating.

Corresponding author
University of Iowa, E11 Seashore Hall, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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