Jessica Mills. Photo by Trudy Simpkin.

New research has found hormones in people with depression could be making them gain weight

A team of researchers at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) and the School of Medicine at the University of Wollongong (UOW) has found that people who are depressed are at higher risk of weight gain.

Gaining weight puts them at risk of other health problems later in life, including heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

Comfort eating is often believed to be the cause of expanding waist lines in people with depression, but how or why food is used to help cope with stress or sadness is unclear.

“Our study investigated several pathways that might be related to comfort eating in depression. We measured weight, body mass index (BMI), depression symptoms and eating behaviours, as well as hormones,” says PhD candidate Jessica Mills. 

The team of researchers also includes, Dr Theresa Larkin, Professor Chao Deng and Dr Susan Thomas.

The team measured appetite hormones including grehlin, which should stimulate appetite and leptin, which should reduce feelings of hunger. 

For people suffering depression the research suggests they may experience hormonal dysregulation.  

Early findings suggest excessive eating may be linked to an insensitivity to hormonal signals, by which the usual signals of being hungry or full are not being received properly. 

“The results showed comfort eating was more common in people with depression than those without, and was more common in females than males,“ she added. 

“This indicates that excessive eating in depression may be more closely related to hormones than previously realised, rather than just being related to psychological issues.” 

Dr Susan Thomas, Jessica Mills and Professor Chao Deng. Photo by Trudy Simpkin.

Dr Susan Thomas, Jessica Mills and Professor Chao Deng. Photo by Trudy Simpkin.

A new, larger study is soon to get underway in the Illawarra which will follow participants over a period of 12 months.

It is hoped this trial will help determine which comes first – do hormones cause the comfort eating, or does comfort eating affect the hormones?

The study is published here:

The team’s similar work is also published here:

For more information about the upcoming study, email Jessica Mills at

Clinical trial

Mood, Food and Biomarkers Study

Media contact

Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator

t: 4221 4702

m: 0417 044 867


Top photo: PhD candidate Jessica Mills. Photo by Trudy Simpkin.

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