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What’s The Connection With PTSD and Food Addiction in Women

A new study published in the most recent issue of JAMA Psychiatry reveals a concerning link among women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a heightened food addiction.

The research team, led by the University of Minnesota’s Susan M. Mason, Ph.D., evaluated data from an earlier study known as the Nurses’ Health Study II. This particular study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and developed by Dr. Walter Willett and colleagues. Its purpose was to study diet and lifestyle risk factors in women who were younger than the Nurses’ Health Study I participants.

Reevaluating Data

Mason and her University of Minnesota team wanted to take the Nurses’ Health Study II further. They reevaluated an astonishing 49,400 of the female participants, all between the ages of 25 and 42. Using the original outcomes gathered, Mason’s team cross-analyzed the data from women reporting PTSD symptoms with women expressing symptoms of food addiction.

The team discovered that almost 18 percent of the women who displayed 6 to 7 PTSD symptoms also had a food addiction. In stark contrast, they found only 6 percent of the women with food addiction were displaying no PTSD symptoms.

In the end, with such a massive difference, it’s hard to deny there’s something going on here.

Stress, Trauma, Food

Food often becomes a crutch for people when stressful events occur. Over time, in certain women, an addiction to food can develop. Though food addiction is not currently established as a psychiatric diagnosis, the concept is helpful in identifying the reliance on food to cope with psychological distress, which helps pave the road from PTSD to obesity.

“Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that observed links between PTSD and obesity might be partly explained by a tendency to use food to self-medicate traumatic stress symptoms,” said Mason.

PTSD Linked to Multiple Disorders

PTSD has been linked to a number of conditions and disorders over the last decade. For example, in addition to its relationship with obesity, PTSD has also been linked to poor weight gain (underweight) and substance abuse problems.

It’s difficult for researchers to figure out exactly what’s going on, however, because they can’t conduct clinical trials – the gold standard of research – in order to examine a possible connection. It would be impossible to have someone develop PTSD on command.

In conclusion, Mason’s new study does support the idea that trauma – along with PTSD – is connected with an addiction to food. The greater number of PTSD symptoms that a person exhibits, the greater the risk of food addiction.

Related: The Link Between PTSD and Alcoholism