Women with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) are more prone to the binge-eating disorder bulimia. And the condition may, in some cases, be linked to a sex hormone imbalance, according to new research.
Bulimia is normally viewed as a mental condition and treated with psychological therapies.
But a study by Dr Sabine Naessén, of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, suggests some women with the condition may have too much of the male hormone testosterone – an underlying cause of PCOS, which, in turn, is a major source of female infertility as well as skin conditions, excess facial and body hair and baldness in women. (1)
After being treated for the testosterone imbalance, half the bulimics in the study reported less hunger and fewer cravings for fatty, sugary food.
Dr Naessén claims that three out of 21 bulimics treated this way became completely free of the eating disorder.
Bulimia involves compulsive over-eating and is probably the most common form of eating disorder. It is approximately 10 times more common in women than men.
Normal treatments involve cognitive behavioral therapy – psychological counseling which looks to uncover deep-rooted causes for problems. Anti-depressants are often prescribed for the illness.
However, some outward signs of hormonal imbalance were apparent in a group of 77 bulimics examined by Dr Naessén. The bulimics were more likely to report PCOS symptoms like menstrual problems and excess body hair than women without the eating disorder.
The theory was tested in 21 women who had outward signs of hormone imbalance when they were given a version of the contraceptive pill containing the female sex hormone oestrogen to reduce testosterone levels.
The study found that taking oestrogen was linked to a reduction in bulimic ‘symptoms’ over a three-month period in approximately half the women involved.
Dr Naessén said: “We have shown that one third of female bulimics have metabolic disorders that may explain the occurrence of the eating disorder.
“These disorders may in certain cases express the hormonal constitution of the patient, rather than any mental illness. Hormone treatment may very well be an alternative to cognitive behavioral treatment.”
(1) Dr. Sabine Naessén, Bulimia May Result from Hormonal Imbalance.
Karolinska Institutet, 2007-01-09