Ghrelin Levels After a Cold Pressor Stress Test in Obese Women With Binge Eating Disorder

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Ghrelin, a peptide hormone secreted mainly by the stomach, increases appetite and food intake. Surprisingly, ghrelin levels are lower in obese individuals with binge eating disorder (BED) than in obese non-BED individuals. Acute psychological stress has been shown to raise ghrelin levels in animals and humans. Our aim was to assess ghrelin levels after a cold pressor test (CPT) in women with BED. We also examined the relationship between the cortisol stress response and changes in ghrelin levels.


Twenty-one obese (mean [standard deviation] body mass index = 34.9 [5.8] kg/m2) women (10 non-BED, 11 BED) underwent the CPT, hand submerged in ice water for 2 minutes. Blood samples were drawn for 70 minutes and assayed for ghrelin and cortisol.


There were no differences between the groups in ghrelin levels at baseline (−10 minutes). Ghrelin rose significantly after the CPT (F = 2.4, p = .024) peaking at 19 minutes before declining (F = 17.9, p < .001), but there were no differences between the BED and non-BED groups. Area under the curve for ghrelin was not related to ratings of pain, stress, hunger, or desire to eat after CPT. In addition, there were no observed relationships between the area under the curves for ghrelin or cortisol after stress.


Although there were no differences between BED groups, there was a significant rise in ghrelin in obese humans after a stressor, consistent with other recent reports suggesting a stress-related role for ghrelin.

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