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Estrogen Heightens Vulnerability to Stress

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NEW HAVEN, Conn., Jan 22, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- A U.S. study shows high levels of estrogen may enhance the brain's response to stress, making women more vulnerable to mental illness.

The finding in the Yale University study may explain why stress-related mental illnesses occur at least twice as often in women as in men.

Becca Shansky, a graduate student in neurobiology at Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said the finding may also explain why the discrepancy in prevalence begins in women at puberty, continues through the childbearing years, and then declines in postmenopausal years.

The study will be published in the March issue of Molecular Psychiatry.

Researchers exposed male and female rats to different levels of stress and then tested them on a short-term memory task. Both genders performed equally under no- and high orders of stress. But when exposed to a moderate level of stress, the female rats were impaired, while the males were not, suggesting females were more sensitive to the effects of stress.

The authors said the female rats showed the stress sensitivity only when they were in a high-estrogen phase.

Copyright 2004 by United Press International.

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