A 2011 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders shows a binge-eating disorder may affect the development of bipolar disorder. The new update of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) identifies binge eating as a distinct disorder for the first time, and the co-occurrence of this disorder with bipolar disorder seems to increase the likelihood of more pronounced mental health issues.
Susan L. McElroy of the Craig and Frances Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason, Ohio, and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine authored the study, along with Mark Frye, M.D., the chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Dr. McElroy and Dr. Frye, along with their fellow researchers, used information from 717 patients in the Mayo Clinic Bipolar Biobank to gather data for their study. This biobank is a collaborative data center created by the Mayo Clinic, the Mayo Clinic Health System, the Lindner Center of HOPE, and the University of Minnesota.
Bipolar Disorder and Binge Eating Disorder
Bipolar is a severe mental illness that affects about 4 percent of the population of the United States. The illness consists of unusually intense emotional states, which range from ecstatic and overexcited states known as manic episodes, to sad and hopeless states known as depressive episodes. These episodes result in drastic changes in sleep, energy levels, activity levels, mood levels and day-to-day functioning.
Binge eating disorder, now recognized as distinct mental health disorder, is part of a larger class of eating disorders. It usually involves a collection of symptoms that may include eating an unusually large volume of food, eating well past the point of fullness, eating unusually rapidly, eating alone most of the time, feeling depressed, feeling ashamed or out of control while eating, or frequent dieting without weight loss.
A Higher Occurrence of Binge Eating
The data gathered from the biobank showed that people with bipolar disorder suffered from a binge eating disorder at a higher rate than the general population. The previous edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) found that binge eating occurred in about 3.5 percent of the female population of the United States, and 2 percent of the male population. This study found that binge eating was more likely to occur in women with bipolar disorder than in men with bipolar disorder.
Increased Risk of Additional Mental Health Issues
The 2011 study also showed that people with co-morbid (co-occurring) bipolar disorder and binge eating disorder were more likely be among the most severely ill members of the bipolar population. The researchers found that bipolar patients who binge ate were more likely to engage in substance abuse or experience suicidal thoughts, psychosis or anxiety disorders. All of these factors make the illness and the accompanying treatment much more complicated.
The study also identified that people with bipolar disorder who suffer from obesity but do not binge eat are more likely to have dangerous physical problems. These problems may include diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure or heart disease. The study does not state whether the occurrence of these physical health problems is higher in obese bipolar patients than it is among the general obese population. However, the information does help to underscore the importance of stabilizing patients with bipolar disorder. The increase in binge eating among unstable patients also increases their likelihood for developing or struggling to recover from weight problems, which in turn puts them at greater physical risk.
In addition, these two sets of data showed researchers the importance of employing treatment measures for bipolar patients that do not involve an increased risk of weight gain or weight fluctuation.
Future Research Goals
In future studies, researchers hope to further isolate the connection between binge eating disorder and bipolar disorder. For example, future research will be aimed at identifying a possible genetic link between the two disorders. Positive results in this area could help increase our understanding of the underlying causes of bipolar disorder and the methods that will be most effective in treating this major mental illness.