High Levels of Estrogen Can Cause Depression

Estrogen and Depression

The sex difference in rates of psychiatric illness, beginning at puberty and continuing throughout the reproductive years, suggest that the brain’s hormonal environment is what modulates the risk and severity of psychiatric morbidity. Hormones play an integral role in the development and prognosis of psychiatric disorders, which has been gaining increased attention, especially along with depression treatment.

The male/female contrasts in estrogen production throughout the reproductive years are responsible for modulating the expression of depression between the sexes. Change in mood is reported during the late luteal phase of the menstrual cycle and following childbirth mainly.

Depression Rates in Menopause

There are so many causes of increase in the rate of depression at the time of menopause, but the recent research has not found any evidence to explain that the major depression increases after menopause, at a time when estrogen levels decline. However, post-menopausal women are increasingly vulnerable to depression as the estrogen production reduces. In fact, the action of estrogen on neurotransmitter and receptor functioning are having the antidepressant symptoms. The main aim of estrogen is to enhance serotonergic functions like increased synthesis and uptake, post-synaptic receptor responsivity, and leads to up-regulation of 5-HT1 and down-regulation of 5-HT2 serotonin receptors.

Estrogen and Norepinephrine Activity

Estrogen also increases norepinephrine activity in the brain, which is responsible for improving the mood and cognition reported in women on estrogen replacement therapy (ERT), and it also involves changes in monoamine oxidase activity. In non-depressed peri- and post-menopausal women, though estrogen has been known to improve mood and sense of wellbeing, estrogen alone does not improve mood in women with clinical depression. Estrogen as an adjunct to antidepressant therapy is also helpful.

Recent research shows that depressed women over 60 years old who are on ERT and who received sertraline substantially improved better than women receiving sertraline alone. Estrogen augmentation for peri-menopausal depression may be reserved for a subgroup of women—those suffering from postpartum depression or mood changes related to the menstrual cycle. There is a link between estrogen and the onset, course and severity of depression, which suggests that estrogen supplementation may be a useful adjuvant therapy in selected depressed women.

Estrogen and Stress

As the survey on depression suggests that the stress-related depressions are seen twice as often in women as compared to men, and estrogen levels are the primary reason. Even mild levels of stress, which don’t affect men, can affect women very easily as their estrogen levels were elevated, and estrogen makes the brain more vulnerable to stress. High levels of estrogen increases the brain’s response to stress, which is why women are more vulnerable to mental illnesses such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than men.

It is known that estrogen can interact with molecular processes involved in the stress response, and that certain genetic variations have been demonstrated in clinically depressed women. But how these factors combine to produce the disparity in the prevalence of this disorder remains unknown.

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