Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression than their male counterparts. This is indeed a startling fact, but it begs the question, why?
The answer may very well be estrogen, or the lack thereof in some women.
Every woman in life goes through perimenopause and then menopause, which is associated with a decline in estrogen. Even during the regular menstrual cycle, estrogen levels can be low, specifically in the luteal phase. Studies have demonstrated that this female sex hormone may have a significant influence on a very important neurotransmitter: serotonin.
Serotonin and Estrogen
Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter of the nervous system that helps maintain a sense of calm, relaxation, and well-being. When serotonin is low or not functioning properly, depression may result.
The influence estrogen has on serotonin is quite significant. Estrogen promotes the induction of tryptophan hydroxylase, which is a crucial enzyme that is needed for the synthesis of serotonin. Additionally, estrogen has a role in naturally preventing the reuptake of serotonin.
Estrogen has been shown to decrease serotonin reuptake transporter SERT mRNA expression (which is involved in the DNA replication and production of SERT) in an area of the brain called the raphe nuclei.
Thus, when estrogen is low due to perimenopause, menopause, or the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, it can result in low serotonin levels and function – which can contribute to feelings of depression.
When depression is present, in addition to testing for and supporting serotonin when low, consider identifying and addressing estrogen imbalance to further aid in the synthesis and function of serotonin.
Shors TJ, Leuner B. Estrogen-mediated effects on depression and memory formation in females. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2003;74(1):85-96.