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Can hormones get you down?

Studies on sex steroids and depression
PhD ceremony:drs. A.E. (Anouk) de Wit
When:September 22, 2021
Supervisor:prof. dr. R.A. (Robert) Schoevers
Co-supervisors:dr. M.K. de Boer, dr. E.J. Giltay
Where:Academy building RUG
Can hormones get you down?

Depression affects about 12% of men and 25% of women at some time in their life. Because of this difference, sex steroids are thought to have an effect on mood. In order to more precisely specify the relationship between sex steroids and depression, Anouk de Wit focused on two questions in her thesis: 1) how are sex steroids associated with depression? 2) do hormonal contraceptives cause depression? She also explored what researchers could contribute to improving science journalism after she had personally experienced how certain research findings were misinterpreted by some of the media.For the first question, de Wit analyzed the data from large Dutch and American cohort studies on depression that collected state-of-the-art sex steroid measurements in men and women. The results showed that single measures of sex steroids were not predictive of depression or suicidality in adult and older men and women. In contrast, studies in which sex hormones had been determined several times in women during the menopause transition, did find links between the variability in sex hormones and mood problems. For the second question, she examined the data on hormonal contraceptive use and depression from women from a large cohort study, and from thousands of women that participated in randomized clinical trials. She found evidence showing that hormonal contraceptives do not cause depressive symptoms in adult women, but that use coincides with a deterioration of depressive symptoms in young women. Finally, based on her experiences, she argued that researchers should critically check press releases for exaggerated claims to prevent incorrect dissemination of research findings by the media.In short, this thesis clearly shows that sex steroids can play multiple and diverse roles in depression. Future studies should measure sex steroid levels serially in order to capture the complex hormonal dynamics that potentially play a role in depression. Furthermore, randomized clinical trials are needed to confirm or reject the hypothesis that hormonal contraceptive use causes depression in young women.