Trauma and food addiction linked for women

September 20, 2014  23:39

Women with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be more likely to have food addiction, or a feeling of dependence on food, new research suggests.

In the study, researchers surveyed more than 49,000 female nurses ages 25 to 42 and asked the women whether they had ever experienced a traumatic event, such as childhood abuse, the violent death of a loved one, or a miscarriage or stillbirth. Researchers then asked the women who had experienced such an event whether they had also experienced PTSD symptoms as a result of the trauma. Those symptoms could include losing interest in activities that were once enjoyable, and feeling isolated or distant from other people, FoxNews reports.

Participants were also asked whether they experienced symptoms of food addiction, such as frequently eating when they were not hungry, feeling sluggish or fatigued from overeating, and having physical withdrawal symptoms when they cut down on certain foods. The researchers considered women to have a food addiction only if they reported at least three of the condition's symptoms.

Overall, 66 percent of those who had experienced a traumatic event reported at least one symptom of PTSD, according to the study.

The researchers also found that 8 percent of all women in the study had food addiction. But this disorder was more common among those with PTSD symptoms: Nearly 18 percent of women with 6 to 7 symptoms of PTSD had food addiction, compared to 6 percent of women who had no PTSD symptoms during their lifetime. (Although the study did not ask whether a doctor had diagnosed the women with PTSD, people with four or more symptoms of PTSD may have the condition, the researchers said.)

The link between food addiction and PTSD symptoms was strongest among those whose PTSD symptoms occurred before age 10.

Previous studies have found that people with PTSD are at increased risk for obesity, and the new study provides one explanation for that link: People with PTSD may use eating to cope with psychological distress, the researchers said.

However, because the study did not ask women when they started experiencing symptoms of food addiction, the study cannot determine which came first, the PTSD or the food addiction.

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