Georgianna Donadio, MSc, DC, PhD
A research review by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explored hormonal dysfunction in women as a potential cause for depression. The focus of the investigators and their subsequent report was on how the female reproductive system interacts with the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates the body’s stress response.
Mood Disorders and Behavior
This mechanism can set up a biochemical environment for psychological disorders in females. It was noted that females are twice as likely as men to experience depression. Through the HP-axis, stress in women impacts the reproductive hormones, which can upset patterns of ovulation. This upset can contribute to the loss of menses and to infertility. If the inter-relationship of stress and female reproductive hormones becomes chronic, behavior and mood disorders and depression can increase significantly.
When oxytocin is suppressed due to excessive stress hormones, fertilized eggs cannot implant into the uterus. This is believed to be a primary cause of infertility in American women, owing to our highly stressful lifestyle. Depression, eating disorders, alcoholism or other addictions may also occur with the estrogen-induced disruption of normal HPA function.
Stress and Depression
The key to preventing or correcting the problem as we find in many physiological conditions is to create a more balanced, less stressful lifestyle. If the body’s stress adaptation system becomes overwhelmed, and cannot appropriately adapt to the environment and demands of everyday life, many disorders and conditions can develop, depression being just one of them.
Regarding post-partum depression, the investigators identified that chronic hyper secretion of the stress hormone cortisol during a pregnancy creates a temporary suppression of adrenal function following delivery. This coupled with the sudden drop of hormonal levels of estrogen after birth may be a significant factor in post-partum depression or subsequent immune dysfunctions such as post-partum thyroid conditions.
It is very important for women, because of our very integrated hormonal and nervous systems, to work towards a balanced, low stress life-style. Unlike our male counterparts, our hormonal system immediately lets us know when we are “off center” by delivering loud messages through hormonal dysfunction.
- For additional resources visit the National Institute of Whole Health.