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Sep 18, 2014 07:21 AM EDT

Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are directly related to increased food addiction, according to a University of Minnesota study. The researchers said that this link is more prominent when there were more symptoms or symptoms occurred early in life.

PTSD, a severe psychiatric condition, is a risk factor for obesity and obesity-related diseases. Food addiction is not yet established as a psychiatric diagnosis, but researchers said that food may be consumed to deal with psychological distress. This in turn paves the way from PTSD to obesity.

For the study, the researchers used the Nurses' Health Study II to determine the link between trauma exposure, PTSD symptoms and food addiction.

Food addiction was described as eating when no longer hungry four or more times per week, worrying about cutting down on food four or more times per week, feeling like eat higher quantities of food to lower distress and suffering from physical withdrawal symptoms when cutting down on certain foods two or more times per week.

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The researchers found that physical abuse in childhood was strongly linked to food addiction.

Out of 49,408 women, 81 percent experienced at least one traumatic event. Out of these women, 34 percent suffered no PTSD symptoms, 39 percent reported 1 to 3 symptoms, 17 percent reported 4 to 5 symptoms and 10 percent reported 6 to 7 symptoms.

The first symptom occurred at an average age of 30 years among those with PTSD, where the food addiction was reported as eight percent. On the other hand, the addiction was six percent among women with no PTSD symptoms and 18 percent among those with 6 to 7 symptoms.

University of Minnesota | FindTheBest

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to look at the association between PTSD symptoms and food addiction. Our findings are relevant to ongoing questions regarding the mechanisms behind observed associations between PTSD and obesity, and they provide support for hypotheses suggesting that association between PTSD and obesity might partly originate in maladaptive coping and use of food to blunt trauma-associated distress. If replicated longitudinally, these results may have implications for both the etiology of obesity and for treatment of individuals with PTSD," Susan M. Mason of the University of Minnesota, said in a press release.

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