Hormonal contraceptives are used worldwide by more than 100 million women. Some studies have been published about the possible appearance of depressive symptoms when using hormonal contraceptives, but this link is still a matter of debate. The purpose of this review is to provide an update of the literature on this issue, and to investigate the possible explanations of this problem based on animal and human studies. The main pathway responsible for menstrual cycle-related mood changes is the γ-aminobutyric acid pathway, which is sensitive to changes in the levels of progesterone and of its metabolites, the neurosteroids. In particular, allopregnanolone is a potentiating neurosteroid with anxiolytic and anti-convulsant effects whose levels change during a normal menstrual cycle together with progesterone levels. Progestins have different effects on allopregnanolone, mainly owing to their diverse androgenicity. Moreover, they might affect brain structure and function, even though the meaning of these changes has yet to be clarified. It is important to define the groups of women in which negative mood disorders are more likely to occur. Adolescence is a critical period and this age-specific vulnerability is complex and likely bidirectional. Moreover, women with a history of mood affective disorders or premenstrual dysphoric syndrome are at a higher risk when taking contraceptives. In this review, we aim to provide clinicians with advice on how to approach these difficult situations.
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Franca Fruzzetti and Tiziana Fidecicchi have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this article.
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Fruzzetti, F., Fidecicchi, T. Hormonal Contraception and Depression: Updated Evidence and Implications in Clinical Practice. Clin Drug Investig 40, 1097–1106 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40261-020-00966-8