Research has uncovered a possible reason why women are more susceptible than men to depression and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis: estrogen, the female hormone.
Dr. George Chrousos and scientists at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development find that a gene gives directions to a corticotropin-releasing hormone, or CRH, which is important to the body's response to stress.
Estrogen partially controls this gene. "Estrogen itself isn't the cause. It participates in the process," Dr. Chrousos says. The findings were reported in the October issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Stress causes CRH to be chronically overreactive, he says. Too much or too little CRH affects the body's ability to deal with stress, he says, making women vulnerable to mental conditions including depression, anorexia, panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Though mainly active in the brain, CRH is distributed throughout the body, and may play a secondary role in the inflammation of tissues, making women more susceptible to arthritis and autoimmune problems, Dr. Chrousos says.