Women's Health

August 23, 2021

Estrogen, depression and menopause

A shift in emotional processing may help women adapt to lower estrogen after menopause —unless they have a history of major depressive disorder, Vanderbilt researchers have found.

Estrogen fluctuation throughout the lifespan may contribute to major depressive disorder (MDD) in women by affecting stress response and mood regulation. Evidence supports ovarian hormone treatment for peri-menopausal depression, but postmenopausal use has not been well examined.

Kimberly Albert, PhD, and colleagues investigated if estrogen modulation of the neural and emotional cognitive responses to stress differs between postmenopausal women with and without MDD history.  

Sixty postmenopausal women completed an fMRI stress task after receiving no drug or three months of daily estradiol (E2). In women without history of MDD, E2 was linked with a more negative response to stress and less activity in emotional regulation regions. For women with history of MDD, E2 was linked with a less negative response to stress and less activity in emotion perception regions.  

These results, reported in the Journal of Affective Disorders, show that women without MDD history may experience a shift in emotional processing that helps them adapt to lower estrogen. Women with MDD history may not show this shift and thus remain vulnerable to depression following menopause. 

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (AG021476, MH110598, TR002243).