Sex hormones are secreted at different rates in men who are severely depressed than those who are not depressed, a team of eight medical doctors associated with the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich has determined.
"Our data suggest that men who suffer from severe major depression have disturbance of gonadal function as reflected by decreased testosterone concentration," said Dr. Ulrich Schweiger, head of the study.
Comparison of men with depression and those without showed:
* Lower testosterone concentrations during daytime and significantly lower concentrations at night and across the 24-hour period.
* Similar concentrations of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone in both groups, but the LH pulse was lower in depressed men.
* Cortisol concentration 68 percent higher in men with major depression than in the comparison group.
* A negative relationship between cortisol and testosterone, that is, the higher the cortisol, the lower the testosterone levels.
The major implication of this study is that low testosterone may be one of several mechanisms in which severe depressive disorders impair sexual function and increase the risk of myocardial infarction and osteoporosis.
"Previous studies of sex hormone concentration in depressed individuals had yielded inconsistent and ambiguous results," said Schweiger. "Possibly because some patients in those studies were only mildly depressed." The new research is reported in the June issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.
Schweiger and colleagues analyzed scores of blood samples from 15 male inpatients with major depression who were 22 to 73 years old, and 22 healthy men aged 23 to 85 in a comparison group, taken across a 24-hour period. Blood was drawn every half-hour during the day, every 10 minutes from 6 p.m. to midnight, and every 30 minutes from midnight to 7:30 a.m.
A major objective of the study was to analyze the functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal system in patients with major depression, the scientists said.
The samples were analyzed for testosterone, gonadotropin (a hormone that stimulates growth of the gonads), cortisol (a major stress hormone), follicle stimulating hormone (which stimulates sperm production), and luteinizing hormone (which stimulates the production of testosterone).
Germany's chain of Max Planck Institutes, funded by the German federal and state governments, support intramural research in a broad range of scientific disciplines.
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