Cortisol, hunger, and desire to binge eat following a cold stress test in obese women with binge eating disorder

Psychosom Med. Nov-Dec 2004;66(6):876-81. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000143637.63508.47.


Objective: Increased basal cortisol levels have been found in bulimia nervosa. After stress, increased cortisol levels have been associated with increased food intake in healthy women. Therefore, we assessed cortisol, hunger, and desire to binge eat after a cold pressor test (CPT) among women with binge eating disorder (BED).

Methods: Twenty-two obese (body mass index [BMI] = 36.7 +/- 6.5 SD) females (11 non-BED, 11 BED) completed the Zung depression scale and underwent the CPT, hand submerged in ice water for 2 minutes. Over 60 minutes, periodic ratings of hunger and desire to binge eat were obtained, just before blood draws for cortisol, as well as insulin. On a separate day, participants had a 1-mg oral dexamethasone suppression test (DST).

Results: The BED group had higher depression scores than the non-BED (p = .04), but depression was not a significant covariate for the cortisol response or to DST. After controlling for contraceptive use (n = 3), the BED group had higher basal cortisol than the non-BED group (p = .03), but cortisol did not differ after DST (p = .40). The BED group had nearly significant greater cortisol AUC after the CPT (p = .057) after controlling for insulin AUC and contraceptive use (p = .057). The BED group also had greater AUC for hunger (p = .03) and desire to binge eat (p = .02) after the CPT.

Conclusion: These findings support our hypothesis of a hyperactive HPA-axis in BED, which may contribute to greater hunger and binge eating.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Bulimia / blood*
  • Bulimia / diagnosis
  • Bulimia / psychology
  • Cold Temperature
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology
  • Eating / physiology
  • Eating / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology*
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Hydrocortisone / physiology
  • Insulin / blood
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology


  • Insulin
  • Dexamethasone
  • Hydrocortisone