Hormones dictate why men and women respond differently to chronic stress

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Women are more likely to suffer from depression and psychiatric disorders under prolonged stress as compared to men. This is the result of different reactions from a common stress hormone, suggests a new study.

Chronic stress has long been known to cause depression, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders among women than men, says Temple University psychologist Debra Bangasser. While earlier studies have primarily been male-centered, the new research findings reported at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience indicated that a common stress hormone triggers diverse responses in certain brain cells among male and female animals. This apparently makes females less capable of coping with chronic stress.

Bangasser terms the findings as interesting, reports Science News. According to her, the problem occurs when the system either responds when it should or not for a prolonged period of time. Though the research has been conducted on rodents, Bangasser believes its findings to be the first step towards understanding the contribution of sex and hormones to a person’s response to stress.

The findings are based on a study of the interaction between estrogen, progesterone and testosterone on the one hand, and a neuropeptide known as corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) on the other. CRF, which functions as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter, decides the response of the body to stress.

A body remaining in a state of alertness for a long period of time results in modification of the DNA by the stress hormones, says neuroscientist Georgia Hodes of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai,  New York City. These modifications, in turn, can alter gene activity and eventually make a person more prone to depression and other psychiatric problems.

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