Circulating levels of neuroactive steroids in patients with binge eating disorder: a comparison with nonobese healthy controls and non-binge eating obese subjects

Int J Eat Disord. 2003 Dec;34(4):432-40. doi: 10.1002/eat.10199.


Objectives: Increased plasma levels of allopregnenolone (3alpha,5alpha-tetrahydroprogesterone [3alpha,5alpha-THP]), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and DHEA sulphate (DHEA-S) have been reported in patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. To assess whether those changes are related to malnutrition, we investigated plasma levels of neuroactive steroids in women with binge eating disorder (BED) who compulsively binge as bulimic patients, but do not incur malnutrition.

Methods: Sixty-eight women participated in the study (31 nonobese healthy controls, 9 nonobese patients with BED, 16 obese patients with BED, and 12 obese non-binge eating women). Blood samples were collected in the morning for determination of plasma levels of 3alpha,5alpha-THP, DHEA, DHEA-S, and cortisol.

Results: Nonobese BED women had significantly higher plasma levels of DHEA, DHEA-S, and 3alpha,5alpha-THP than nonobese healthy women. Similarly, obese individuals with BED exhibited significantly higher neurosteroid plasma levels than non-binge eating obese subjects. No significant differences in plasma cortisol levels were observed among the groups.

Discussion: This study shows increased plasma levels of neuroactive steroids in BED patients. These findings could have been influenced by methodologic limitations (e.g., the absence of diurnal sampling). However, they suggest that if malnutrition is involved in the determination of increased plasma levels of neuroactive steroids in people with anorexia or bulimia nervosa, then different factors may induce similar effects in people with BED. Alternatively, common unknown factors could be responsible for neurosteroid changes in anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and BED.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bulimia / blood*
  • Bulimia / complications
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / blood*
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Obesity / blood*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Pregnanolone / blood*


  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
  • Pregnanolone