Oestrogen linked with depression in later life

Oestrogen linked with depression in later life

 By Liz Lockhart

According to new research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the hormone oestrogen could play an important role in late-life depression.

Oestrogen is known to be one of the hormones involved with reproduction.  It is also thought to have a role to play in mood and mental health because of the way that it acts on cells in the brain.

A scientific study to investigate whether certain genetic variations, or ‘polymorphism’ of oestrogen receptors were associated with severe depression in later life has been conducted by researchers in France.

6,017 men and women over the age of 65, who were living in three French cities: Bordeaux, Dijor and Montpelier were assessed by the team.  Each person was interviewed to assess if they had a diagnosis of depression. 

  • 12.2% of women were diagnosed with current severe depression
  • 4.3% of men were similarly diagnosed.


The team also took a blood sample from each person, which was analysed to determine their oestrogen receptor polymorphism type. Polymorphism type was ascertained using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique which reveals details about DNA structure.


The study found that women with certain genetic variants of the oestrogen receptor, known as ER-a polymorphisms, were significantly more likely to have late-life depression. Some women with the ER-b rs1256049 polymorphism were also at increased risk of depression – but only those who were not currently using hormone replacement treatment.  

No strong associations between oestrogen receptor polymorphisms and depression risk in men was found by the researchers.

The reasons for the connection between some oestrogen receptor polymorphisms and depression are still unclear. However, oestrogen receptors can affect hundreds of genes, which in turn are involved in the production and breakdown of various chemicals in the brain which play a role in depression. 

  “We found that polymorphisms of ER-a are associated with depression in older women’ said lead researcher Dr Joanne Ryan. ‘ In addition, there is some evidence that taking hormone treatment can reduce the risk of depression in women with the ER-β rs1256049 polymorphism. Although more research is needed, our findings provide some preliminary evidence that hormone treatment could be beneficial for some women who are genetically vulnerable to severe late-life depression.”  

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