Estrogen and Binge Eating in Females: Does Research Show a Connection?

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

Female FirefighterBinge eating disorder is a psychiatric illness that develops from a combination of complex factors, including biological components, environmental triggers, and more. Thankfully, greater awareness has been drawn to binge eating disorder, particular with the inclusion of this diagnosis in the latest version of the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

While perhaps not as widely known as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder is actually the most common eating disorder within the United States1. Binge eating disorder impacts about 3.5 percent of women, 2 percent of men and almost 2 percent of children1.

Why Are Women More Likely to Binge Eat?

Binge eating disorder is also more prevalent among women then men, with estimates indicating that about 60 percent of individuals who struggle with binge eating disorder are female compared to an average of 40 percent of men.

In light of these statistics, there are some questions about the susceptibilities of women to binge eating disorder. Are there unique factors in women that make them more likely to develop binge eating disorder then men? Looking at the research can help give better clues about this complex picture.

Research Findings on Binge Eating and Hormones

Supporting a friendWhile they exact mechanisms that contribute to and result in binge eating disorder are still being researched and understood, science has uncovered significant findings that pertain particularly to women. Hormones may have a direct correlation with a woman’s inclination to binge eat, particularly the balance of estrogen.

According to recent research, women who have irregular menstrual cycles have an increased tendency to binge eat2. Scientists have also found that women who binge eat tend to have lower levels of estrogen, while the converse relationship is also seen: when estrogen is increased, binge eating is inhibited2.

These findings produce an interesting relationship between estrogen and binge eating disorder in females. Research in this area has also begun to investigate the possibility of estrogen therapy or modified estrogen therapy for the treatment of binge eating disorder. When studied in mice models, researches found that an estrogen receptor site in the brain had in fact mediated the effect of estrogen, which resulted in the suppression of binge eating.

The Controversy in the Treatment of Hormone Issues

Based on these preliminary findings, it can be easy to jump to the conclusion that estrogen therapy may be the cure for binge eating disorder in females. However, estrogen therapy in practice is controversial due the detrimental effects that can result with use, such as increased risk of breast cancer. Researchers are currently studying interventional drugs that may act directly and specifically on estrogen receptors in the region of the brain as a method of treating binge eating disorder.

The discovery of this relationship can open up a door of possibilities when it comes to the treatment of one of the most common eating disorders that women may experience in our day and age. This information is also helpful in understanding the greater picture involved with binge eating disorder.

Old CoupleWith the many stigmas that commonly surround binge eating disorder, knowing the possible biological factors that contribute to this disorder can help break barriers to treatment.

Getting Help Is the First Step

If you are a woman who has been dealing with binge eating disorder, know that you are not alone in your struggle, nor should you feel ashamed about developing this disorder. The progression of binge eating disorder is the result of a multitude of complex factors, such as hormones and genetics, all which contribute to the likelihood of this mental illness arising.

Finding hope in recovery is perhaps one of the greatest motivating factors to connect with treatment and begin the healing journey. Reach out for the appropriate help you need today!

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What factors do you think make binge eating disorder particularly difficult for females to deal with? With the many stigmas that commonly surround binge eating disorder, how can a woman break through shame and seek out the appropriate help and care that is needed for recovery?


  1. National eating disorder association, “Binge Eating Disorder”, Accessed 15 July 2015

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 31st, 2015
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