If you are older when you go through menopause, you may have a lower risk of depression later in life, a new meta-analysis says.
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Estrogen’s anti-depressant effects
In the study, researchers from National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, in Greece reviewed 14 separate research studies that represented health information from nearly 68,000 women. The results suggest that women who go through menopause at age 40 or older had a decreased risk for depression.
The researchers say the data indicates that the longer a woman’s reproductive years last, or the later she begins menopause, the less her chances are for developing depression in later years.
The researchers theorize that the likely reason is that a later menopause means a woman has more years of exposure to the hormone estrogen, which acts as a sort of anti-depressant.
Menopause is when you no longer have menstrual periods. Menopause happens when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and most of their production of estrogen.
The findings, the researchers say, could help physicians identify women who are at higher risk for depression. Physicians then could recommend psychiatric monitoring or estrogen-based therapies if appropriate.
Estrogen levels and menopause
However, hormonal fluctuations can increase the risk for someone who already is vulnerable to depression, Dr. Thacker says.
“In menopause, women’s estrogen levels drop,” Dr. Thacker says. “Estrogen acts like an MAO inhibitor and helps boost some of the serotonin levels in the brain. So women with depression, who already have low levels of serotonin, are going to have even lower levels due to menopause.”
The changing hormone levels during menopause can wreak havoc even on women who don’t have depression. The key to feeling good for most women is maintaining the right hormone levels, Dr. Thacker says.
“I think that maintaining proper estrogen levels is good for those women who have a late menopause, or good for those women who continue to have hormone exposure past menopause,” Dr. Thacker says. “Those women are going to do better in general.”
One in every five women suffer from depression. Dr. Thacker says it’s important for doctors to identify women who are at a higher risk for depression due to early menopause. Depending on the woman’s medical history, hormone replacement therapy may be an option that can help.