INTRODUCTION: Middle age has been linked with various dysfunctional eating patterns in women. The hormone ghrelin is related to food intake, with plasma levels rising before eating and decreasing immediately afterwards. Animal research has shown that estradiol is an antagonist of ghrelin. Given that both menopause and anorexia nervosa (AN) are states characterised by reduced estradiol, the goal of the present study was to investigate for the first time whether menopausal status and a history of AN are linked with altered ghrelin levels in middle-aged women. Based on previous research, we hypothesised that a) post-menopausal women would demonstrate comparably increased ghrelin after food intake and b) women with a history of AN would exhibit increased total ghrelin levels.
METHODS: Healthy, middle-aged women (N=57) were recruited. N=31 were post-menopausal and n=27 had a history of AN. Plasma was repeatedly collected before and after a meal standardised in terms of caloric content. Areas under the curves were calculated to indicate total (AUCg) and postprandial ghrelin (AUCi).
RESULTS: Menopausal status was linked with postprandial ghrelin (AUCi -1.6±2.2 vs. -2.9±2.6; p=.058), while a history of AN was linked with total ghrelin (AUCg 36.2±5.6 vs. 39.0±3.7; p=.050). There were no interaction effects (both p>.466). A closer examination of the effects revealed that post-menopausal women showed marginally greater decreases in ghrelin immediately after food intake (p=.064) and marginally greater re-increases after 60 min (p=.084) when compared to pre-menopausal women. Women with a history of AN had significantly higher total ghrelin when compared to women without a history of AN (p=.042).
DISCUSSION: Post-menopause was linked with higher sensitivity of ghrelin to food intake (trend), while a history of AN was related to greater total ghrelin. Future research should investigate to what extent the observed alterations in ghrelin may affect dysfunctional eating behaviour during middle age.