Early life trauma correlates with binge-eating disorder, scientists find

A US-based scientist has discovered how early trauma may alter the brain to increase the risk of binge-eating and obesity later in life.

Sora Shin, an assistant professor and scientist who has been working with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute VTC, conducted a study which displays how a pathway in the brain which typically provides signals to stop eating, can be altered by early life trauma.  

person holding burger

Commenting on the decision to conduct her study, Sora said: ‘We wanted to know the mechanism underlying how early life trauma induces these eating disorders.

‘What we found is a specific brain circuit that is vulnerable to stress, causing it to be dysfunctional.’

To conduct her study, which was published yesterday, Sora and her lab team studied the impact of Leptin, a hormone which suppresses appetite and weight gain by signalling to the brain that it’s time to stop eating, on mice.

Supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the team discovered that mice who experienced early life stress and exhibited behaviour similar to binge-eating, leptin is less effective in the part of the brain where behaviours are regulated, resulting in overeating.

‘There is much more research to do,’ Sora said, ‘but by knowing the specific molecule and receptors in the brain to target, we can now provide insight and the foundation for developing therapeutic strategies for the disorder.’

Michael Friedlander, Executive Director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC said ‘This finding speaks to a set of broader health questions, which is how life’s health course is set based on certain early experiences.

‘We are increasingly aware that early experiences and exposures ranging from those that occur even pre-conception in future parents through those that the foetus experiences in [the womb] and to those that the child experiences throughout postnatal life can have a dramatic impact on our health course’.

Sora’s study, which is now published in Nature Neuroscience, was sparked by the number of individuals in America who suffer with a binge-eating disorder and have survived recent neglect that was inflicted on them when they were younger. Research shows almost 3% of American’s suffer from overeating and of this number, more than eight in 10 experienced childhood abuse, neglect or other trauma.  

Photo by Szabo Viktor


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