Blame binge eating on your hormones — not your willpower

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. — affecting 5-10 percent of the population — there are a lot of people suffering with this problem. But, new research sheds some light on one reason women feel compelled to binge and how we can put a stop to the vicious cycle. Like many things female, it all comes back to our hormones. (Thanks a lot, Mother Nature!)

Hormones causing junk food cravings and overeating will surprise no one, but the exact mechanism has been unknown until this recent study.

“Previous data has shown that women who have irregular menstrual cycles tend to be more likely to binge eat, suggesting that hormones in women play a significant role in the development or prevention of the behavior,” said Yong Xu, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor University and the lead author of the report. He adds that his research has shown a direct connection between estrogen levels and binge eating. As a woman’s estrogen levels drop, the incidence of binge eating increases, and then as estrogen levels rise, binge eating decreases.

Problem solved! Estrogen therapy for all!

This would be cool and estrogen creams would be flying off the shelf — except for one big drawback of current estrogen compounds: They affect your whole body and, therefore, can drastically increase your risk of breast cancer. To remedy this, the scientists located the area of the brain responsible for increasing estrogen and have developed an estrogen-based compound GLP-1 that only targets the neuron receptors and stays away from other areas of the body, like our lovely lady lumps.

This is exciting for two reasons: First, there may be some real help on the horizon for people with BED. (And perhaps also terrible PMS? I can demolish a pint of ice cream in one sitting when the Crimson Tide rolls in.) But even more important, this research highlights an important fact — that at least some binge eating can be attributed to biological causes and not “weak willpower” or “laziness” or whatever other negative stereotype of people who overeat.

Overeating, and especially binge eating, has a huge social stigma in our society. I’d say it’s looked down upon more than anorexia or bulimia and less likely to be recognized as an eating disorder, which leads many to suffer in silence. This not only prevents people from getting the health care they need but also causes them to face an uphill battle once they see a doctor. Binge eaters are often told to “just stop eating so much” as if quitting the behavior is as simple as flipping a switch. Hopefully, this new research will give them and their doctors more tools to take care of them and help change public perception of what can be a very serious disorder.

Xu says they are working on getting GLP-1 patented and hope to have it in clinical trials soon.

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