Is It Me or My Hormones? Neuroendocrine Activation Profiles to Visual Food Stimuli Across the Menstrual Cycle

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Homeostatic energy balance is controlled via the hypothalamus, whereas regions controlling reward and cognitive decision-making are critical for hedonic eating. Eating varies across the menstrual cycle peaking at the midluteal phase.


To test responses of females with regular cycles during midfollicular and midluteal phase and of users of monophasic oral contraception pills (OCPs) to visual food cues.


Participants performed a functional magnetic resonance imaging while exposed to visual food cues in four time points: fasting and fed conditions in midfollicular and midluteal phases.


Twenty females with regular cycles and 12 on monophasic OCP, aged 18 to 35 years.

Main Outcome Measures:

Activity in homeostatic (hypothalamus), reward (amygdala, putamen and insula), frontal (anterior cingulate cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), and visual regions (calcarine and lateral occipital cortex).


Tertiary hospital.


In females with regular cycles, brain regions associated with homeostasis but also the reward system, executive frontal areas, and afferent visual areas were activated to a greater degree during the luteal compared with the follicular phase. Within the visual areas, a dual effect of hormonal and prandial state was seen. In females on monophasic OCPs, characterized by a permanently elevated progesterone concentration, activity reminiscent of the luteal phase was found. Androgen, cortisol, testosterone, and insulin levels were significantly correlated with reward and visual region activation.


Hormonal mechanisms affect the responses of women's homeostatic, emotional, and attentional brain regions to food cues. The relation of these findings to eating behavior throughout the cycle needs further investigation.

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