Bulimia nervosa (BN) is characterized by excessive consumption of food in a short period of time accompanied by feelings of loss of control and purging behaviors, occurring at least twice a week and persisting for a minimum of three months. Women with BN also exhibit autonomic dysfunction as evidenced by hypervagal tone and subsequently increased heart rate variability (HRV), bradycardia, and hypotension. Additionally, women with BN may exhibit menstrual disturbances that result in altered gonadal sex hormone production. Estrogen in particular has been shown to modulate autonomic function by decreasing sympathetic activity. The purpose of this study was, firstly, to compare the function of the autonomic nervous system as it pertains to control of heart rate (HR) and HRV for women with BN, women who display behaviors associated with BN but do not meet diagnostic criteria for the disease (subclinical), and healthy controls (n=10 each). Secondly, we sought to evaluate whether differences in sex hormone concentrations, particularly estrogen, also modulate autonomic activity. We obtained electrocardiogram data at rest and during deep breathing and static hand grip tests that challenged parasympathetic and sympathetic contributions to autonomic function. In addition, blood concentrations of total estrogens, estradiol, total testosterone, and free testosterone were assayed to determine effects of sex hormone variation on autonomic function. The findings from this study will be presented.
Jenna Moraski, ’12
Jennifer Rogers Fagenbaum
Sponsor: Jennifer Rogers Fagenbaum