Women are at a greater risk of depression during times when their hormones are fluctuating. For example, some women experience postpartum depression after they give birth. Others battle depression during menopause and the onset of postmenopause. While all women go through hormone fluctuations, some experience this mental disorder and others don’t, but why? A new study by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) provided one answer – depression is linked to the length of time a woman is exposed to estrogen. The study findings were published in Menopause.
During the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 1,300 women between the ages of 42 and 52 who were menstruating regularly and who were premenopausal. The study’s primary goal was to understand why some women were more likely to become depressed.
While previous studies have suggested that a higher susceptibility to depression is linked to reproductive hormones, this latest study focused on the effects of estradiol, the estrogen that is predominately present during a woman’s reproductive years. Estradiol is responsible for modulating the synthesis, the availability, and the metabolism of serotonin, which is a key neurotransmitter for depression.
During the study, researchers found that longer estrogen exposure from the time a female begins to menstruate all the way through life to the onset of menopause significantly reduced her risk of suffering from depression during the transition into menopause and for up to as much as 10 years postmenopause. NAMS Executive Director Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton said the study also revealed that women who were in early menopause, those who had more frequent hot flashes, or those who had fewer menstrual cycles throughout life were at a higher risk of depression.
Another finding noted in the study related to the use of birth control. Researchers found that women who used birth control long-term also were at a decreased risk of battling depression. While researchers also looked at each woman’s number of pregnancies and whether they breastfed their babies or not, those variables had no bearing on the risk of suffering from depression.
Pinkerton said that both women and their health providers needed to recognize and properly identify the symptoms of depression in order to take appropriate steps to treat the mental disorder. Symptoms include mood changes, feeling worthless, fatigue, changes in weight or sleep, loss of pleasure, the inability to make decisions, and feelings of persistent sadness.
By Trixie Dillwood