Hormones and mood: from menarche to menopause and beyond
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The lifetime prevalence of mood disorders in women is approximately twice that of men. The underlying causality of this gender difference is not yet understood. There is increasing scientific attention to the modulation of the neuroendocrine system by fluctuating gonadal hormones. This review attempts to summarize our current state of knowledge on the role and potential relevance of estrogen and other sex steroids to psychiatric disorders specific to women from menarche to menopause. The sudden appearance of higher levels of estrogen in puberty alters the sensitivity of the neurotransmitter systems. Moreover, the constant flux of estrogen and progesterone levels throughout the reproductive years portends constant modification of the neurotransmitter systems. Premenstrual syndromes may be the result of an altered activity or sensitivity of certain neurotransmitter systems. Pregnancy and delivery produce dramatic changes in estrogen and progesterone levels as well as significant suppression along the HPA axis, possibly increasing vulnerability to depression. At menopause, estrogen levels decline while pituitary LH and FSH levels increase. The loss of modulating effects of estrogen and progesterone may underlie the development of perimenopausal mood disorders in vulnerable women. The pattern of neuroendocrine events related to female reproduction is vulnerable to change and is sensitive to psychosocial, environmental, and physiological factors. Further research is needed to be able to identify specific genetic markers which might help us better understand how the balance between estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and other steroid hormones affect neurotransmitter function.
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