Disordered eating behaviour is associated with blunted cortisol and cardiovascular reactions to acute psychological stress

School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK.
Psychoneuroendocrinology (Impact Factor: 5.59). 09/2011; 37(5):715-24. DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.09.004
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Research suggests a potential dysregulation of the stress response in individuals with bulimia nervosa. This study measured both cardiovascular and cortisol reactions to a standardised laboratory stress task in individuals identified as showing disordered eating behaviour to determine whether dysregulation of the stress response is characteristic of the two branches of the stress response system. Female students (N=455) were screened using two validated eating disorder questionnaires. Twelve women with disordered eating, including self-induced vomiting, and 12 healthy controls were selected for laboratory stress testing. Salivary cortisol and cardiovascular activity, via Doppler imaging and semi-automatic blood pressure monitoring, were measured at resting baseline and during and after exposure to a 10-min mental arithmetic stress task. Compared to controls the disordered eating group showed blunted cortisol, cardiac output, heart rate, and stroke volume reactions to the acute stress, as well as an attenuated vasodilatory reaction. These effects could not be accounted for in terms of group differences in stress task performance, subjective task impact/engagement, age, BMI, neuroticism, cardio-respiratory fitness, or co-morbid exercise dependence. Our findings suggest that disordered eating is characterised by a dysregulation of the autonomic stress-response system. As such, they add further weight to the general contention that blunted stress reactivity is characteristic of a number of maladaptive behaviours and states.

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