Prenatal and Postnatal Hair Steroid Levels Predict Post-Partum Depression 12 Weeks after Delivery

J Clin Med. 2019 Aug 23;8(9):1290. doi: 10.3390/jcm8091290.


Background: Within three to six months after delivery, 13%-19% of women suffer from post-partum depression (PPD), understood as a dysfunctional adaptation to the postpartum condition and motherhood. In the present cross-sectional study, we compared the hair steroid levels of women 12 weeks before and after delivery and with or without PPD.

Method: The present study was a cross-sectional study conducted twelve weeks after delivery. At that time, 48 women (mean age: 25.9 years) with PPD and 50 healthy controls (mean age: 25.2 years) completed questionnaires on depressive symptoms. Further, at the same time point, 6 cm lengths of hair strands were taken, providing samples of hair steroids 12 weeks before and 12 weeks after delivery in order to analyze hair steroids (cortisol, cortisone, progesterone, testosterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)).

Results: Compared to those of women without PPD, hair steroid levels (cortisol, cortisone, progesterone) were significantly lower in women with PPD both before and after delivery. Lower prenatal cortisone and progesterone levels predicted higher depression scores 12 weeks after delivery. Lower prenatal levels of cortisol and progesterone and higher levels of DHEA, and postnatal lower levels of cortisol, cortisone, and progesterone, along with higher levels of DHEA predicted PPD-status with an accuracy of 98%.

Conclusions: PPD is associated with blunted hair cortisol, cortisone, and progesterone secretions both pre- and postpartum. Such blunted steroid levels appear to reflect a stress responsivity that is less adaptive to acute and transient stressors. It follows that prenatally assessed low hair cortisol and progesterone levels, along with high DHEA levels, are reliable biomarkers of post-partum depression 12 weeks after delivery.

Keywords: DHEA; cortisol; cortisone; post-partum depression; pre- and postnatal hair steroids; progesterone; testosterone.