I’ve been prescribing estrogen for years to help women in menopause with depression. And now, at a meeting of the new Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit of the National Institute of Mental Health, the lower estrogen levels associated with menopause was found to be associated with an increased risk of depression.
Basically, the longer the woman is on estradiol (the main estrogen secreted by the ovaries), the lower her risk of depression. Specifically, for each year of increased premenoausal exposure to estrogen, the risk for developing depression goes down 15%. What isn’t known is why some women in menopause get depressed and others don’t.
The study, done by Dr. Claudio Soares, analyzed information from over 1200 women who participated in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation or SWAN study. The women were 42 – 52 years old when they entered the study and were followed for 10 years.
The wider the window from menarche (first period) to menopause (last period), the lower the risk of depression. Women who took oral contraceptives (birth control pills) during the study period had an even lower chance of depression.
This study was supported by the North American Menopause Society and funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The researchers are going to continue looking into other variables that lower depression risk. But for women who are at risk for depression, being on HRT after menopause may be particularly helpful, and it’s one of the variables I use when discussing with women whether or not estrogen is a good choice for them.