Before discussing the findings it is important to note that the study was a small-scale one and that the women with which the lower levels of the study of women with lower levels of the hormone allopregnanolone had previously been diagnosed mood disorders and they were already identified as being at risk for postpartum depression. At this stage the findings do not establish cause and effect between the progesterone hormone and postpartum depression; however, the research does signal an area for future study.
(or postnatal depression) is a recognized form of clinical depression that occurs after childbirth. The symptoms are varied and can include sadness, low energy, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, anxiety, and irritability. Often the symptoms are mild and short-lasting; however, in severe cases the disorder can be significant and can be classed as .long-term (that is running for two weeks or more).
The causes are varied and not fully understood. Some possibilities are sleep disorder, anxiety about becoming a parent, and feelings linked to a loss of control. Hormonal change has been one area subject to research.
Discussing the new findings, Dr. Lauren M. Osborne, who works at the Johns Hopkins Women's Mood Disorders Center, states in her research note
: “Many earlier studies haven't shown postpartum depression to be tied to actual levels of pregnancy hormones, but rather to an individual's vulnerability to fluctuations in these hormones, and they didn't identify any concrete way to tell whether a woman would develop postpartum depression.”
From this she adds: “For our study, we looked at a high-risk population of women already diagnosed with mood disorders and asked what might be making them more susceptible.”
For this Dr. Osborne examined 60 pregnant women who were aged between 18 and 45 years. Each of the women had been previously diagnosed with a mood disorder (such as major depression or bipolar disorder). During the course of the study, 75 percent of the women were depressed at some stage during the investigation.
Around the time of the second trimester (about 20 weeks pregnant) and with the third trimester (about 34 weeks pregnant), some of the women took a mood test and provided 40 milliliters of blood. Forty participants participated at the second-trimester and 19 of these women developed postpartum depression. In addition, with the 58 women who participated in the third-trimester data collection, 25 of those women developed postpartum depression.
The analysis of the blood samples showed that levels of progesterone and allopregnanolone, a byproduct made from the breakdown of progesterone (known for its calming, anti-anxiety effects) were lower in the women who developed postpartum depression. Conversely the more allopregnanolone present the less chance there was of developing the disorder: nanogram per milliliter increase in allopregnanolone, the risk of developing postpartum depression dropped by 63 percent.
Allopregnanolone possesses a wide variety of effects, such as antidepressant, anxiolytic, stress-reducing, rewarding, antiaggressive, sedative, cognitive and memory-impairing, analgesic, anesthetic, neuroprotective, and neurogenic effects. Further study will be required to assess if ways of boosting this will aid women prone to postpartum depression.
The research has been published in
the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology
, under the title “Lower allopregnanolone during pregnancy predicts postpartum depression: An exploratory study.”
In similar news many women who are pregnant suffer from depression, with some medics putting the rate at one in seven. To assist medics in detecting the likelihood of a woman suffering from depression a biological marker has been detected. Digital Journal reported on the research earlier this year