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Hormone Updates-New Findings On
Estrogen & Testosterone

E-Newsletter No. 48

Estrogen and its discontents
Animal studies suggest that the hormone may make women more prone to depression.

By William Hathaway, Hartford Courant

The combination of estrogen and stress may make women more susceptible to anxiety and depression than men.

Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine recently attempted to find a molecular reason why women are about twice as likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders as men, said Rebecca Shansky, a graduate student in Yale's neurobiology department and lead author of the study.

"People really haven't studied this in a gender-specific way," Shansky said.

Stress has been implicated in the development of major depression, a condition that is marked by disruption in an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex regulates behavior, thought and working memory — the ability to plan and organize behavior.

Shansky and other Yale neurobiologists decided to place rats under stress to gauge the influence estrogen levels have on the animals' ability to complete simple memory tasks.

Without any stress, male and female rats performed memory tasks equally well. And with high levels of stress, both male and female rats made a lot of errors. However, male rats performed significantly better at memory tasks than females when placed under moderate stress.

On closer study, researchers discovered that female rats performed poorly on the tests only during proestrus, when they produced high levels of estrogen. During estrus, or with low estrogen levels, there was no impairment.

The scientists then removed the ovaries of female rats and repeated the experiment, giving some rats estrogen replacement and others placebos. Again, they found that female rats with high levels of estrogen performed worse on memory tasks than those without.

The results, which will appear in the March issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry, suggest that estrogen may amplify the negative effect of stress on the brain's ability to complete certain tasks, Shansky said. It could be that estrogen also increases susceptibility to stress-related disorders such as depression and anxiety, and be the reason the increased risk ends at menopause, she said.

However, Shansky said that estrogen may have beneficial effects on other areas of the brain and on other functions, such as long-term memory formation.

Dr. Nick DeMartinis, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut Health Center, speculated that in some women, the combination of high levels of stress and estrogen interferes with serotonin regulation and triggers depression, he said.

Teasing out female-specific contributing factors may have great value in developing new treatments for anxiety and depression, DeMartinis said.

Also see:
FDA Acts on Fraudulent Claims of Bioidentical Hormone Benefits

Testosterone Therapy May Not Raise Cancer Risk

Men with low testosterone have long been cautioned against taking hormone supplements to improve sexual desire and performance because testosterone feeds some prostate cancers.                    

But in a new study, researchers found that testosterone treatment didn't increase the chances that even men with an elevated prostate cancer risk would develop a malignancy.

"These results are not conclusive about the role of testosterone, but it's very reassuring that a group at high risk of cancer did not appear to have any increased risk when treated for a year with testosterone," said study author Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, a urological surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Morgentaler and urologist Dr. Ernani Luis Rhoden followed 75 men, average age 60, through 12 months of testosterone replacement. Pretreatment biopsies revealed 20 men had a precancerous condition called prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia, 55 had healthy prostates.

Blood measurements of prostate-specific antigen, an indicator of possible malignancy, were similar in both groups before and after treatment, with a slight average increase for everyone. The study was published in the December issue of the journal Urology.

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