Stress exposure is a risk factor for both the onset and the maintenance of Eating Disorders (EDs). The attachment theory may provide a framework to explain the relationship between social stress and EDs, since secure attachment promotes the seeking for support in order to help people to face stressful events. The endogenous stress response system, including the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, is likely involved in mediating the role of attachment in the subjects’ coping with stressful situations.
We explored cortisol responses to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) of patients with EDs in order to evaluate possible associations between subjects’ attachment styles and HPA axis functioning.
Twenty-one adult patients with EDs (7 with secure attachment and 14 with insecure attachment) filled in the Experience in Close Relationship (ECR) questionnaire, which assesses the adult attachment style, and were exposed to the TSST. Saliva samples were collected before and after the stress in order to measure cortisol levels.
As compared to ED patients with secure attachment, those with insecure attachment showed a significant different pattern of the HPA response to the stress test.
Present findings suggest that attachment style may influence the HPA response to stress in patients with EDs and this effect may have relevant implications for the pathophysiology of EDs.
The authors have not supplied their declaration of competing interest.