What's Behind Postmenopausal Depression?

Postmenopausal depression linked to age at menopause onset, duration of reproductive period

(RxWiki News) How old were you when you hit menopause? If your answer was younger than 40, you may be at risk of one common condition.

In a new study from Greece, researchers linked a woman's age at menopause onset and the length of her reproductive period to her likelihood of postmenopausal depression. Women in this study who began menopause at age 40 or older were half as likely as those who began earlier to develop depression after menopause.

Researchers explained that an older age at menopause onset and a longer reproductive period means a longer exposure to hormones called endogenous estrogens. These hormones are at peak production in a woman's body during the reproductive years. They decline in the years after menopause.

"This [study] suggests a potentially protective effect of increasing duration of exposure to endogenous estrogens as assessed by age at menopause as well as by the duration of the reproductive period," wrote lead study author Eleni Th. Petridou, MD, PhD, of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and colleagues.

For this study, Dr. Petridou and team looked at 14 studies on a total of 67,714 women.

Entering menopause at age 40 or older was tied to a 50 percent lower risk of depression than entering it younger. With each two-year increase in age at menopause onset, these women also saw a 5 percent lower risk of developing severe depression.

Dr. Petridou and team said these findings could allow doctors to identify those women at higher risk of depression who may benefit from counseling or hormone replacement therapy.

However, in an editorial about this study, Hadine Joffe, MD, director of the Women’s Hormone and Aging Research Program at Harvard University, and Joyce T. Bromberger, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, cautioned that more research is still needed before any recommendations can be made.

"This [study] is a commendable effort to expand thinking about the role of lifetime exposure to reproductive hormones in the occurrence of postmenopausal depression," Drs. Joffe and Bromberger wrote. "[But] more evidence ... is required to support use of hormonal therapy as a therapeutic approach to protecting against postmenopausal depression."

This study was published Jan. 6 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
January 5, 2016