A new study has found that women who suffer from PTSD are more likely to have food addiction (feelings of dependence on food), and that the food addiction may depend on the type and timing of trauma.

The study, published last week in JAMA Psychiatry looked at 49,408 female nurses from 14 states between the ages of 25 and 42. The nurses were asked if they had undergone traumatic events (like childhood abuse, the violent death of a loved one, or miscarriage/stillbirth). They were then asked if they had experienced PTSD in response to a traumatic event, though they did not ask if the women had been diagnosed with the condition by a doctor. Then the researchers asked the women if they had experienced symptoms of food addiction.

Their results showed that women who had experienced symptoms of PTSD were more likely to show symptoms of food addiction. As Rachael Rettner at Live Science reports:

But this disorder was more common among those with PTSD symptoms: Nearly 18 percent of women with 6 to 7 symptoms of PTSD had food addiction, compared to 6 percent of women who had no PTSD symptoms during their lifetime. (Although the study did not ask whether a doctor had diagnosed the women with PTSD, people with four or more symptoms of PTSD may have the condition, the researchers said.)

The link between food addiction and PTSD symptoms was strongest among those whose PTSD symptoms occurred before age 10.

According to the researchers:

"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…"

As Rettner points out, the study did not ask when they began to experience symptoms of food addiction, so there's no data on whether the PTDS symptoms or the food addiction symptoms came first. But the researchers suggested that psychological and behavior interventions that address using food as a way to cope may help break the connection between obesity and PTSD.


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