A new study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins shows a link between postpartum depression and low levels of allopregnanolone, a neuroactive steroid and byproduct of progesterone. Decreased levels of allopregnanolone in the cerebral spinal fluid has previously been linked to various mood disorders, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
The findings showed “lower-than usual levels” of allopregnanolone during the second trimester puts pregnant women at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression.
The researchers examined data from a group of women that had been diagnosed with mood disorders. Allopregnanolone holds a high potential for treating postpartum depression.
A previous relevant study focused on women, who had been diagnosed with a type of mood disorder and/or taking a daily regimen of mood stabilizers or antidepressants, does not determine the cause-effect relationship between the hormone allopregnanolone and postpartum depression. However, it does suggest that hormonal disruptions during pregnancy point to opportunities for intervention.
According to Dr. Lauren M. Osborne, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the previous studies did associate postpartum depression with pregnancy hormone fluctuations, but they didn’t determine if women would develop the disorder after giving birth.
“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,” Osborne says.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 15 to 20 percent of pregnant women in the United States will be affected by postpartum depression and only 15 percent of the women will receive professional treatment.
The findings could lead to a diagnostic marker and preventive strategy for postpartum depression.
Image source: CDC