Can Infertility lead to over-eating?
A clinical review
One of the more stressful scenarios in a woman’s life is the inability to procreate children; indeed, it has been found that stress levels in infertile women are similar to those of patients suffering from a significant illness. Infertile women are known to have some mental health risk factors that may impact their reproductive health. One of them is the patient-perceived stress, and the second one is avoidant coping style.
So, is a relationship between patient-perceived stress, and eating disorders? In a cross-sectional study that included 416 women aged from 20 to 47 years old between June 2011 and May 2012, the results show that eating-disorder behaviors can be influenced by stress caused due to infertility.
The results also show that the relationship between stress and eating disorders is partially due to the effect of avoidant coping style on eating disorders.
These are some good examples of clinical and psychological interventions that could benefit patients with eating-disorders:
However, perceived stress only accounts for 15% of the variance in eating disorders. This finding suggests that there is a complex network of biological, neuroendocrine, and neurobiological factors that modulate the development of eating disorders. The most representative examples are cortisol, insulin, and ghrelin levels, which are found to regulate the food intake, metabolic rate, and energy expenditure.
In summary, it is essential to consider stress, eating disorders, and an avoiding coping style as potentially useful psychotherapeutic targets in infertile women and should be referred promptly with a specialist during the early phase of treatment. Further studies are needed to understand better the neurobiological aspects involved in this association.
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Stress, in particular, has been found to increase anxiety and depression incidence in infertility patients, with a subsequent increased risk of treatment dropout. Also, research has found that women exposed to stress may be predisposed to present maladaptive behaviors that may lead to eating disorders. Thus, it is vital to analyze the stress levels, their management, and their consequences in women undergoing fertility treatments.
Multiple factors are involved in the development of eating disorders. Among them, high-stress levels and avoidance-oriented coping are primarily found to be directly associated. Hence, when women are exposed to fertility-related stress (in the context of an avoidant-oriented coping style), they are more likely to develop maladaptive eating behaviors such as fasting, binge eating or abuse of laxatives and diuretics. All of these behaviors can significantly affect the energy balance and body mass index (BMI), both factors that are vital for successful fertility treatment. Also, the treatment-induced ovarian stimulation can lead to weight gain, and subsequently trigger an underlying eating disorder in these patients.