Brain responses to food images during the early and late follicular phase of the menstrual cycle in healthy young women: relation to fasting and feeding

Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Aug;94(2):377-84. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.010736. Epub 2011 May 18.


Background: Food intake fluctuates throughout the menstrual cycle; it is greater during the early follicular and luteal phases than in the late follicular (periovulatory) phase. Ovarian steroids can influence brain areas that process food-related information, but the specific contribution of individual hormones and the importance of the prandial state remain unknown.

Objective: The objective was to examine whether brain activation during food visualization is affected by changes in estradiol concentration in the fasted and fed conditions.

Design: Nine eumenorrheic, lean young women [mean (±SD) age: 26.2 ± 3.2 y; body mass index (in kg/m(2)): 22.4 ± 1.2] completed 2 visits, one in the early (low estradiol) and one in the late (high estradiol) follicular phase of their menstrual cycle. At each visit, subjects underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while they viewed food and nonfood images, before and after a standardized meal. Region-of-interest analysis was used to examine the effect of follicular phase and prandial state on brain activation (food > nonfood contrast) and its association with estradiol concentration.

Results: Differences were identified in the inferior frontal and fusiform gyri. In these areas, visualization of food elicited greater activation in the fed state than during fasting but only in the late follicular phase, when estradiol concentration was high. The change in estradiol concentration across the follicular phase (late minus early) was inversely correlated with the change in fusiform gyrus activation in the fasted state but not in the fed state.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that estradiol may reduce food intake by decreasing sensitivity to food cues in the ventral visual pathway under conditions of energy deprivation. This trial was registered at as NCT00130117.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Estradiol / physiology
  • Fasting / physiology*
  • Female
  • Follicular Phase / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Visual Perception*


  • Estradiol

Associated data