Steroid hormone mediators of physical and mental health outcomes in men and women
Depression and anxiety disproportionally affect women around the world, with women twice as likely to be diagnosed than men. What are the sex-related biological factors that influence this disparity? Sex differences in levels of testosterone are thought to explain population-level sex differences in aspects of physical strength. Research has shown that simple tasks used to assess physical health and mental processing speed, such as handgrip strength and reaction time to a visual cue, are positively related to testosterone levels. Separate research has found an inverse relationship between handgrip strength and measures of anxiety. Yet the three-way relationship between testosterone, measures of physical health, and measures of mental health are not well understood. The proposed research will explore how testosterone and estradiol levels relate to handgrip strength and reaction time and further, how these variables combine to predict mental health outcomes of depression and anxiety.
The relationship between testosterone and health indicators in women could be influenced by the prescription use of the oral contraceptive pill, a form of birth control. Regular use of this medication drastically reduces testosterone levels. Given that recent research has shown that oral contraceptive use is also associated with poorer mental health outcomes, particularly among young women, there is a pressing need to test this effect in a large population sample. The proposed research will explore how women using oral contraceptives differ from nonusers with respect to symptoms of depression and anxiety and whether or not the differences here are related to measures of physical strength and health.
Addressing these questions, this research will inform greater understanding of the risks and benefits of hormonal interventions for health and wellbeing and highlight sex/hormone interactions as critical variables in biomedical and clinical research. This research is planned to take no more than 3 years to complete.