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PTSD Boosts Food Addiction Risk

Update Date: Sep 17, 2014 08:11 PM EDT

People with posttraumatic stress disorder are more likely to develop food addiction, according to a new study.

Researchers found that this is especially true when individuals had more symptoms or the symptoms occurred earlier in life.

Lead researcher Susan M. Mason, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and colleagues, looked at data from the Nurses' Health Study II to retrieve data on trauma exposure, PTSD symptoms and food addiction. The study defined food addiction as suffering three or more symptoms that included eating when satiated four or more times a week, worrying about cutting down on food four or more times a week, feeling the need to eat an increasing amount of food to lessen distress at any frequency and having physical withdrawal symptoms when cutting down on certain foods two or more times a week.

The latest study involved 49,408 women, with 81 percent reporting at least one traumatic event.

Researchers said that the women with posttraumatic reported their first symptom occurred at about 30 years. The rate of food addiction was 8 percent, with a range from 6 percent among women with no lifetime PTSD symptoms to almost 18 percent among women with 6 to 7 symptoms.

Trauma from treating individuals with traumatic injuries was the most common experience reported by the nurses. However, trauma symptoms triggered from childhood physical abuse in childhood had the strongest associations with food addiction. However, food addiction association did not differ significantly by the type of trauma suffered.

 "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. If replicated longitudinally, these results may have implications for both the etiology of obesity and for treatment of individuals with PTSD."

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

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