Food preferences throughout the menstrual cycle – A computer-assisted neuro-endocrino-psychological investigation
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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OriginalversjonPhysiology and Behavior. 2022, 255, 113943. 10.1016/j.physbeh.2022.113943
Background As eating behavior changes in relation to the menstrual cycle and weight changes with menopausal transition, ovarian hormones appear to be involved in regulating eating behavior. However, observations are contradictory and are difficult to compare, due to methodological problems related to nutritional epidemiology. To better understand the relationship between ovarian steroid hormones and eating behavior, our study evaluates women's responses to visual food cues at different points in the menstrual cycle with their specific serum estrogen/progesterone levels and women's responses in the case of strong estrogen changes in the context of fertility treatments. Methods We collected data from 129 women, 44 of whom received in vitro fertilization (IVF) at the Department of Reproductive Endocrinology, University Hospital Zurich. A total of 85 women with natural cycles were recruited at the University Hospital Zurich (n = 37) and at the Hannover Medical School (n = 48). Our observational study used 4 different measurement time points across the natural cycle and 2 measurement time points in women with supraphysiological estradiol levels during fertility treatments. Using a second cycle, we then tested our results for replication. At these predefined time points, women were shown pictures of 11 categories of food, with 4 items for each category and blood samples for measurement of hormone levels were taken. Food preferences registered at the time of the investigation were indicated on a visual analogue scale (0–100). Results We did not find any statistically significant association between women's serum hormone levels and the rating of visually presented food, either during the menstrual cycle or during fertility treatments after controlling for multiple testing (all p > 0.005). Ratings for fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates showed a significant linear decline throughout the first menstrual cycle (p < 0.01), which did not replicate in the second cycle (p > 0.05). In contrast, the ratings for sweets showed a significant linear decline in both cycles (both p < 0.01), with a mean rating of 54.2 and 48.8 in the menstrual phase of the first and second cycle, respectively, to a mean rating of 47.7 and 43.4 in the premenstrual phase of the first and second cycle, respectively. During fertility treatments, no food rating showed a significant change (all p > 0.05). Mood such as negative and positive affects did not influence ratings for visual food cues neither throughout the menstrual cycles nor during fertility treatment. Conclusions Serum levels of estradiol and progesterone do not correlate with food ratings in women, even when estradiol levels are above the physiological level of a natural menstrual cycle. Since, except for sweets, significant changes in food ratings in a first cycle did not replicate in a second menstrual cycle, significant findings from the literature based on animal or human studies focusing on a single-cycle have to be interpreted with caution.