Depression in Pre-Menopausal Women Explained

depressionA new study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has found that women who are nearing menopause have higher levels of a brain protein that is linked to depression, compared to both younger and menopausal women.[1] This finding may help to explain the high rates of first-time depression seen among women who are in this transitional stage of life, known as perimenopause.1

“This is the first time that a biological change in the brain has been identified in perimenopause which is also associated with clinical depression, ” said Senior Scientist Dr. Jeffrey Meyer of CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute.1 Specifically, Meyer and colleagues found elevated levels of the chemical monoamine oxidase-A (MAO-A) among women aged 41 to 51.1

During perimenopause, a common symptom is mood changes.1 Rates of first-time clinical depression among this group reach 16 to 17 percent, and a similar number experience milder depressive symptoms.1

MAO-A is an enzyme that is a pro-oxidant which breaks down brain chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which help to maintain a normal mood.1 Meyer has previously linked high levels of MAO-A to major depressive disorder and depressed mood related to alcohol dependence and smoking cessation, as well as the period of time immediately after childbirth.1

To investigate if MAO-A levels explain the mood changes during perimenopause, Meyer and colleagues conducted brain scans of three groups of women using a brain imaging technique called positron emission tomography (PET).1 Among the three groups of women, 19 were of reproductive age, 27 were in perimenopause, and 12 were in menopause.1 On average, MAO-A levels were 34 percent higher in women with perimenopause than in women of reproductive age, and 16 percent higher than those in menopause.1 Women in perimenopause also reported a higher tendency to cry, based on a questionnaire called the Adult Crying Inventory.1

Dr. Meyer believes the results suggest new opportunities for prevention.1 He said, “Using PET imaging, we can test treatments to see if they can prevent this elevation of MAO-A, and potentially prevent clinical depression.”1 Meyer states that one approach may be a dietary supplement, and another may be hormone replacement therapy (HRT).1

[1] Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2014, June 4). Brain protein may explain depression in pre-menopausal women. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 5, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140604203159.htm

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