Writing in the journal Biological Research for Nursing, women's health experts from the University of Alberta (UA) say there is an urgent need for gender-specific research to better understand the relationship of female sex hormones to mood states and disorders.
Menstrual cycles and menopause are staple topics for comedians, but the new study argues that mood disorders are a serious and pervasive health problem, and large-scale population studies have found women are up to 3 times more likely to suffer from major depressive disorder than are men.
"The reasons for the gender disparity in rates of depression are not completely understood," says UA's Kathy Hegadoren. "But there is growing evidence that estrogens have powerful effects beyond their role in reproduction — that they play a critical role in mood disorders in women — and this opens new avenues for research into the underlying biological mechanisms and treatment of depression."
Estrogen can be used to treat various mood disturbances in women but the results of these treatments can be difficult to interpret because researchers are only beginning to recognize the complex interactions among estrogens, serotonin and mood. "Right now, clinical use of sex-hormone therapies for the treatment of mood disorders is severely hampered by the inability to predict which women would respond well to such therapies," explains co-researcher Gerri Lasiuk, noting that most animal studies looking at the causes of depression have been conducted with male animals.
"Previous research has found that, before puberty, the rates of mood and anxiety disorders are similar in boys and girls. It's only after females begin menstrual function that a gender differential in mood disorders manifests itself. This, coupled with the observation that women appear to be especially vulnerable to mood disturbances during times of hormonal flux, certainly lends support to the claim that a relationship exists between sex hormones and mood," concluded Hegadoren.
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Source: University of Alberta