-Written by Erica Robinson NC A&T SU ‘19
Binge eating is defined in the DSM-V as eating an amount of food in a short period of time that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time. The act of recurring episodes of binge eating is then classified as binge eating disorder (BED) (DSM-5, p.351). A common belief about binge eating is that it occurs mainly when one undergoes extreme stress. Although situational stress is a great contributor to this disorder, pre-existing genetic adaptation due to prenatal stress (PNS) may be the main cause of binge eating (Schroeder et al., 2017)
It is common knowledge that a mother’s health directly affects the health of her fetus. Studies have also found a correlation between a mother’s mental state and development of the baby after birth (Glover, 2011). A recent study investigated the relationship between the mothers’ stress during pregnancy and the female offspring’s chances of developing BED. This study focuses mainly on the female offspring because females are roughly twice as likely to develop the disorder as males.
To conduct this study, researchers exposed pregnant mice to CRF through their food supply. CRF stands for corticotrophin-releasing factor which are hormones already released during stress. The induction of CRF to the mother mice was during the third trimester of pregnancy to induce PNS. After reaching adolescence, the female offspring were tested to see if they showed binge eating behavior.
To analyze the effects of the exposure of CRF, researchers focused on the offspring’s hypothalamus: a region of the brain that controls and regulates the body’s hormones, food intake and metabolism. The study discovered the offspring that were exposed to PNS developed a modification of gene expression in the hypothalamus. Although this alteration developed during the prenatal period, this adaptation wasn’t prevalent until offspring underwent stressful situations similar to human condition stress associated with eating disorders. In order to mimic the self-restrictions of eating disorders, researchers manipulated the mice diet and limited the access to certain foods.
Since the researchers were able to identify the type of adaptation, they also investigated strategies to prevent the binge eating behavior such as adapting the mice to a more methyl-rich diet. Although this study was conducted on mice, researchers hope this information may become relevant to humans’ experiences with binge eating.
Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Washington, Londres: American Psychiatric Association.
Schroeder et al. (2017) A methyl balanced diet prevents CRF-induced prenatal stress triggered predisposition to binge eating-like phenotype. Cell Metabolism, DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2017.05.001
Glover, V. (2011, January). Stress and pregnancy (prenatal and perinatal) | The Effects of Prenatal Stress on Child Behavioural and Cognitive Outcomes Start at the Beginning. Retrieved June, 2017, from http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/stress-and-pregnancy-prenatal-and-perinatal/according-experts/effects-prenatal-stress-child