The prevalence of depression in adults is increasing and one recent study found 27.5% of adults reported symptoms of depression.
The recent pandemic may not be the only cause for the increase in depressive symptoms.
Many researchers believe hormonal imbalance is an under-recognized cause of low mood and depression.
High levels of estrogen in the body may be responsible for mental health-related illnesses. Estrogen is a hormone related to the development of breasts and the mensural cycle, but it is also linked to stress, cell proliferation, and cancer at high levels.
One study showed that estrogen amplified the stress response in areas of the brain most closely identified with depression and other stress-related mental illnesses (J Affect Disord, 2003).
Why? Because estrogen may increase stress sensitivity (Mol Psychiatry, 2004). Another animal model study states, “Female rats were impaired by lower doses than males during proestrus (high estrogen), but not during estrus (low estrogen). Similarly, ovariectomized females showed increased stress sensitivity only after estrogen replacement. These results suggest that estrogen amplifies the stress response in PFC, which may increase susceptibility to stress-related disorders.”
Furthermore, several other studies show estrogen-treated females are impaired at extinguishing a previously conditioned fear response (Toufexis et al. 2007), an effect that has also been reported in cycling women (Milad et al. 2006).
High exposure to estrogen may explain why women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men.
Low levels of DHEA may also be an under-recognized cause of low mood and depression. DHEA is a hormone made in the body linked to brain function. Data suggest that DHEA synthesized in the brain has neuroprotective effects, which means DHEA may play a role in brain function and development.
Levels of DHEA peak in your 20’s and slowly fall as you age. By the time you reach 40, your body makes about half as much DHEA as it used to. By 65, levels drop to 10 to 20 percent; by age 80, it plummets to less than 5 percent.
One study showed “lowered dehydroepiandrosterone levels are an additional state abnormality in adult depression. Because dehydroepiandrosterone may antagonize some effects of cortisol and may have mood-improving properties, these findings may have significant implications for the pathophysiology of depression” (Biol Psychiatry, 2000). Another study concluded, “In men and women, DHEAS levels and depressive symptoms were inversely associated” (Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2007).
The National Institute of Mental Health studied 46 patients aged 40-65 with major and minor depression. After six weeks of administering DHEA, 23 patients showed a 50% decrease in depressive symptoms. Ten patients chose to continue taking DHEA for one year at a low dose and remained free of depression.
Sex steroid hormone levels and specifically high levels of estrogen and low levels of DHEA have been linked with depressive symptoms.
Knowledge is power and understanding your hormone levels may be crucial to overcoming low mood and depression. To check your hormone levels, purchase one of our blood kits here.
Shors T, Leuner B. Estrogen-mediated effects on depression and memory formation in females. J Affect Disord. 2003 Mar. Sourced from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12646301/
Shanksy, R et al. Estrogen mediates sex differences in stress-induced prefrontal cortex dysfunction. Mol Psychiatry. May 2004. Sourced from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14569273/
Toufexis DJ, Myers KM, Bowser ME, Davis M. Estrogen disrupts the inhibition of fear in female rats, possibly through the antagonistic effects of estrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) and ERbeta. J Neurosci. 2007;27:9729–9735. Sourced from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17804633/
Milad MR, Quirk GJ. Neurons in medial prefrontal cortex signal memory for fear extinction. Nature. 2002;420:70–74. Sourced from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12422216/
Michael A et al. Altered salivary dehydroepiandrosterone levels in major depression in adults. Biol Psychiatry. 2000 Nov 15;48(10):989-95. Sourced from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11082473/
Morsink L et al. Associations between sex steroid hormone levels and depressive symptoms in elderly men and women: results from the Health ABC study. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Sep-Nov 2007;32(8-10):874-83. Sourced from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17651906/
Schmidt P et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone Monotherapy in Midlife-Onset Major and Minor Depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(2):154-162. Sourced from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/208294