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Psychol Med. 2015 Nov;45(15):3227-37. doi: 10.1017/S0033291715001221. Epub 2015 Jul 15.

Changes in genetic risk for emotional eating across the menstrual cycle: a longitudinal study.

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Department of Psychology,Michigan State University,East Lansing,MI,USA.
Department of Psychology,Florida State University,Tallahassee,FL,USA.
Departments of Psychiatry, Human Genetics, and Psychology,Virginia Commonwealth University,Charlottesville,VA,USA.
Department of Psychology,University of Virginia,Richmond,VA,USA.



Previous studies have shown significant within-person changes in binge eating and emotional eating across the menstrual cycle, with substantial increases in both phenotypes during post-ovulation. Increases in both estradiol and progesterone levels appear to account for these changes in phenotypic risk, possibly via increases in genetic effects. However, to date, no study has examined changes in genetic risk for binge phenotypes (or any other phenotype) across the menstrual cycle. The goal of the present study was to examine within-person changes in genetic risk for emotional eating scores across the menstrual cycle.


Participants were 230 female twin pairs (460 twins) from the Michigan State University Twin Registry who completed daily measures of emotional eating for 45 consecutive days. Menstrual cycle phase was coded based on dates of menstrual bleeding and daily ovarian hormone levels.


Findings revealed important shifts in genetic and environmental influences, where estimates of genetic influences were two times higher in post- as compared with pre-ovulation. Surprisingly, pre-ovulation was marked by a predominance of environmental influences, including shared environmental effects which have not been previously detected for binge eating phenotypes in adulthood.


Our study was the first to examine within-person shifts in genetic and environmental influences on a behavioral phenotype across the menstrual cycle. Results highlight a potentially critical role for these shifts in risk for emotional eating across the menstrual cycle and underscore the need for additional, large-scale studies to identify the genetic and environmental factors contributing to menstrual cycle effects.


Emotional eating; environmental influences; genetic influences; menstrual cycle; ovarian hormones

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