Disordered eating behavior 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: 4.94). 09/2011; 37(5):715-24. DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.09.004
Source: PubMed


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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    • "Secondly, although the final size of each group could be considered modest, it was similar or greater in size to previous studies in this broad field (Ginty et al., 2012; Heaney et al., 2011; Lovallo et al., 2000) and was based on a selection from a substantial screening sample of over 2300 university students. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background and aims: Problematic Internet use and excessive alcohol consumption have been associated with a host of maladaptive outcomes. Further, low (blunted) cardiovascular and stress hormone (e.g. cortisol) reactions to acute psychological stress are a feature of individuals with a range of adverse health and behavioural characteristics, including dependencies such as tobacco and alcohol addiction. The present study extended this research by examining whether behavioural dependencies, namely problematic Internet use, excessive alcohol consumption, and their comorbidity would also be associated with blunted stress reactivity. Methods: A large sample of university students (N = 2313) were screened using Internet and alcohol dependency questionnaires to select four groups for laboratory testing: comorbid Internet and alcohol dependence (N = 17), Internet dependence (N = 17), alcohol dependence (N = 28), and non-dependent controls (N = 26). Cardiovascular activity and salivary cortisol were measured at rest and in response to a psychological stress protocol comprising of mental arithmetic and public speaking tasks. Results: Neither problematic Internet behaviour nor excessive alcohol consumption, either individually or in combination, were associated with blunted cardiovascular or cortisol stress reactions. Discussion It is possible that problematic Internet behaviour and excessive alcohol consumption in a student population were not related to physiological reactivity as they may not reflect ingrained addictions but rather an impulse control disorder and binging tendency. Conclusions: The present results serve to indicate some of the limits of the developing hypothesis that blunted stress reactivity is a peripheral marker of the central motivational dysregulation in the brain underpinning a wide range of health and behavioural problems.
    Full-text · Article · May 2015 · Journal of Behavioural Addictions
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    • "First, diminished stress reactivity was found to predict relapse among smokers who had quit (Al'absi et al., 2005), suggesting that blunted reactivity precedes smoking addiction. Second, blunted cortisol and cardiovascular reactions to stress have been associated with other substance addictions, such as alcohol (Lovallo et al., 2000; Panknin et al., 2002) and, indeed, have been shown to characterize those with non-substance dependencies and problems, such as exercise dependence (Heaney et al., 2011), gambling addiction (Paris et al., 2010), bulimia (Ginty et al., 2012), and repeated self-harm (Kaess et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: A number of studies have now examined the association between smoking and the magnitude of physiological reactions to acute psychological stress. However, no large-scale study has demonstrated this association incorporating neuroendocrine in addition to cardiovascular reactions to stress. The present study compared neuroendocrine and cardiovascular reactions to acute stress exposure in current smokers, ex-smokers, and those who had never smoked in a large community sample. Salivary cortisol, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and frequency components of systolic blood pressure and heart rate variability were measured at rest and during exposure to a battery of three standardized stress tasks in 480 male and female participants from the Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study. Current smokers had significantly lower cortisol, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate reactions to stress. They also exhibited smaller changes in the low frequency band of blood pressure variability compared to ex- and never smokers. There were no group differences in stress related changes in overall heart rate variability as measured by the root mean square of successive interbeat interval differences or in the high frequency band of heart rate variability. In all cases, effects remained significant following statistical adjustment for a host of variables likely to be associated with reactivity and/or smoking. In secondary analyses, there were no significant associations between lifetime cigarette consumption or current consumption and stress reactivity. In conclusion, compared to non-smokers and ex-smokers, current smokers exhibited attenuated neuroendocrine and cardiovascular reactions to acute psychological stress. Among smokers and ex-smokers, there is no evidence that lifetime exposure was associated with physiological reactions to acute stress, nor that current levels of cigarette consumption were associated with reactivity. It is possible, then, that attenuated stress reactivity may be a marker for an increased susceptibility to take up and/or maintain smoking behaviour once initiated.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2014 · Psychoneuroendocrinology
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    • "A similar reduction in the hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal (HPA) axis response has been reported as a consequence of other dietary-induced binge eating models [12] and repeated consumption of highly palatable food [10], [59], [60]. Blunted stress reactivity, including cortisol and autonomic reactivity, has been reported in human subjects with BN and BED [61], [62], [63], suggesting dysregulation of the neural controls of stress in binge eating. One limitation of our study was that animals prior to and during the restraint stress were calorie deprived, which would have increased corticosterone levels [64]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Stress is often associated with binge eating. A critical component of the control of stress is the central norepinephrine system. We investigated how dietary-induced binge eating alters central norepinephrine and related behaviors. Young male Sprague Dawley rats received calorie deprivation (24 h) and /or intermittent sweetened fat (vegetable shortening with sucrose; 30 min) twice a week for 10 weeks. The groups were Restrict Binge (calorie deprivation/sweetened fat), Binge (sweetened fat), Restrict (calorie deprivation), and Naive (no calorie deprivation/no sweetened fat). Dietary-induced binge eating was demonstrated by Restrict Binge and Binge, which showed an escalation in 30-min intake over time. Feeding suppression following nisoxetine (3 mg/kg; IP), a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, was not evident in Restrict Binge (Restrict Binge: 107±13, Binge: 52±9, Restrict: 80±8, Naive: 59±13% of saline injection at 1 h). In subsequent experiments with Restrict Binge and Naive, Restrict Binge had reduced corticosterone (Restrict Binge: 266±25; Naive: 494±36 ng/ml) and less feeding suppression (Restrict Binge: 81±12, Naive: 50±11% of non-restraint intake at 30 min) following restraint stress (1 h). Dietary-induced binge eating in Restrict Binge was not altered by a dorsal noradrenergic bundle lesion caused by N-(2-chloroethyl)-N-ethyl-2-bromobenzylamine (DSP4), but frontal cortex norepinephrine was positively correlated with the average 30-min intake post-lesion (0.69; p<0.01). In a separate set of animals, single-unit in vivo electrophysiological recording of locus coeruleus-norepinephrine neural activity demonstrated reduced sensory-evoked response as a consequence of the Restrict Binge schedule (Restrict Binge: 8.1±0.67, Naive: 11.9±1.09 Hz). These results, which suggest that a consequence of dietary-induced binge eating is to attenuate the responsiveness of the brain norepinephrine system, will further our understanding of how highly palatable foods dampen the stress neuraxis.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2014 · PLoS ONE
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