The effects of circulating testosterone and pubertal maturation on risk for disordered eating symptoms in adolescent males

K. M. Culbert, S. A. Burt, C. L. Sisk, J. T. Nigg, K. L. Klump

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations


Background Testosterone may be a biological factor that protects males against eating disorders. Elevated prenatal testosterone exposure is linked to lower levels of disordered eating symptoms, but effects emerge only after mid-puberty. Whether circulating levels of testosterone account for decreased risk for disordered eating in boys after mid-puberty is currently unknown; however, animal data support this possibility. In rodents, prenatal testosterone's masculinizing effects on sex-differentiated behaviors emerge during puberty when circulating levels of testosterone increase and 'activate' the expression of masculinized phenotypes. This study investigated whether higher levels of circulating testosterone predict lower levels of disordered eating symptoms in adolescent boys, and in particular whether effects are associated with advancing pubertal maturation. Method Participants were 213 male twins from the Michigan State University Twin Registry. The Minnesota Eating Behavior Survey and Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire assessed several disordered eating symptoms. The Pubertal Development Scale assessed pubertal status. Afternoon saliva samples were assayed for testosterone using enzyme immunoassays. Results Consistent with animal data, higher levels of circulating testosterone predicted lower levels of disordered eating symptoms in adolescent boys and effects emerged with advancing puberty. Results were not accounted for by several important covariates, including age, adiposity, or mood/anxiety symptoms. Conclusions Findings suggest that elevated circulating testosterone may be protective and underlie decreased risk for eating pathology in males during/after puberty, whereas lower levels of testosterone may increase risk and explain why some, albeit relatively few, males develop eating disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2271-2286
Number of pages16
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Aug 2014



  • Adolescence
  • Disordered eating
  • Eating disorders
  • Males
  • Puberty
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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