Food cue-elicited brain potentials change throughout menstrual cycle: Modulation by eating styles, negative affect, and premenstrual complaints

Horm Behav. 2020 Aug:124:104811. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2020.104811. Epub 2020 Jul 3.


Background: While there is evidence for increased food intake and craving during the luteal phase, underlying mechanisms are incompletely understood. The present study investigated electrophysiological responses to food pictures as a function of menstrual cycle phase. In addition, the moderating effects of progesterone, eating behaviors (restraint, emotional, orthorexic), negative affect, and premenstrual complaints were explored.

Methods: Using a within-subject design, 35 free-cycling women watched and rated pictures of food (high and low caloric) and control items during the follicular, the ovulatory, and the luteal phase (counterbalanced), while EEG was recorded to examine the late positive potentials (LPP). Salivary gonadal hormones and affect were examined at each occasion. Eating behaviors and premenstrual complaints were assessed once.

Results: For parietal regions, average LPPs were comparable between cycle phases but slightly larger LPP amplitudes were elicited by high caloric food pictures as compared to the neutral category. Descriptively, both food categories elicited larger parietal LPPs than neutral pictures during the luteal phase. Analyses of LPPs for central-parietal regions showed no effect of picture category or cycle phase, except higher amplitudes in the right area during the luteal phase. During the luteal phase, progesterone and functional interference from premenstrual symptoms (but not age, BMI, picture ratings, affect, estradiol, or eating behaviors) significantly predicted larger parietal LPPs towards high caloric (but not low caloric) pictures.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest a heightened food cue reactivity during the luteal phase, which may relate to higher ovarian hormone secretion and more functional impact of premenstrual symptoms. This research contributes to a better understanding of menstrual health and the identification of preventive strategies for premenopausal women.

Keywords: Dietary restraint; EEG; Emotional eating; Food cue reactivity; Menstrual cycle; Premenstrual complaints.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Estradiol / analysis
  • Estradiol / metabolism
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Luteal Phase / physiology
  • Menstrual Cycle / physiology
  • Menstrual Cycle / psychology*
  • Premenstrual Syndrome* / metabolism
  • Premenstrual Syndrome* / physiopathology
  • Premenstrual Syndrome* / psychology
  • Progesterone / analysis
  • Progesterone / metabolism
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol