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Women with PTSD can Get Addicted to Food

Sep 18, 2014 10:06 AM EDT
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A new study suggests that women suffering from post traumatic stress disorder are more likely to develop food addiction.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and colleagues, shows that women might use food to cope with psychological stress.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that affects a person who has recently witnessed a traumatic event such as death. About 3.5 percent of the U.S. adult population has been diagnosed with this condition. PTSD is also known to increase depression risk. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are few major types of eating disorders. Food addiction is not considered a psychiatric disorder.

Data for the study came from Nurses' Health Study II. In the study, food addiction was defined two-three symptoms such as eating when not hungry, feeling guilty about eating and trying to change/cut down on frequency of eating.

Over 80 percent of the 49,408 women in the study reported at least one traumatic event. In this group, 34 percent had no PTSD symptoms, while 39 percent reported 1 to 3 symptoms and ten percent reported 6-7 symptoms (the PTSD scale was based on 7 symptoms).

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to look at the association between PTSD symptoms and food addiction. Our findings are relevant to ongoing questions regarding the mechanisms behind observed associations between PTSD and obesity, and they provide support for hypotheses suggesting that association between PTSD and obesity might partly originate in maladaptive coping and use of food to blunt trauma-associated distress," researchers said in a news release.

According to the researchers, women who reported PTSD symptoms at an early age were more likely to develop food addiction behavior than other women. Physical abuse during childhood and the resulting psychological trauma was strongly related to eating disorders.

"I just want this to add to a lot of research that people's weight status is not just a symptom of willpower and education," Susan Mason, from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, lead author of the study, according to Reuters. "There may be psychological factors in play too."

The researchers maintain that they still don't know what came first - food addiction or PTSD symptoms. The team also warns against making cause and effect relationship between the two, saying that more research is needed to establish a link.

The study is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

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