Stress could help trigger the onset of eating disorders, a new study shows.
The etiology of eating disorders is multifactorial, note Dr. Luis Rojo of the University of Valencia in Spain and colleagues in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Multiple factors, including psychological ones, can influence the onset and development of an eating disorder. Stress is thought to be an important precursor of eating disorders.
Rojo and his team studied the connection between stress and eating disorders, as well as the influence of psychological problems, in 32 teens with eating disorders and 32 matched, healthy controls from the same community. They interviewed the teens about life events and difficulties.
Close to half (46.9 percent) of the teens with eating disorders had some other type of psychiatric disorder, the researchers found, compared to just 9.4 percent of controls.
Individuals with eating disorders also reported more difficulties. During the year before eating disorder onset, the researchers found, the adolescents with eating disorders reported more acute stressful events, as well as more accumulation of acute stress.
Stress also appeared to peak in the weeks before the eating disorder’s onset.
The relationship between stress and eating disorder onset was stronger among individuals who also had other psychiatric disorders, the researchers found, suggesting that mental illness might make people more vulnerable to the effects of stress.
Individuals who were exposed to at least one stressful agent were 10 times more likely to have developed an eating disorder.
“Our results specifically highlight the importance of severe chronic stress (major difficulties) in the development of [eating disorders],” the researchers conclude.
SOURCE: Psychosomatic Medicine July/August 2006.
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD