Hair Cortisol Level May Help Predict Postpartum Depression

November 27, 2017
postpartum depression

Women who went on to experience postpartum depression had elevated cortisol levels in their hair during pregnancy, compared with other pregnant women, according to a study published online in PLoS One.

Consequently, researchers believe hair cortisol may help clinicians identify women likely to develop the depressive condition.

The study involved 44 women whose hair cortisol levels were measured throughout pregnancy. Participants also underwent a series of tests measuring stress and psychological symptoms.

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The difference in pregnancy cortisol levels, between women who went on to experience postpartum depression and women who did not, was significant in the first and third trimesters.

Women with postpartum depression also showed higher levels of somatization during the first trimester of pregnancy; higher levels of somatization, obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, and anxiety during the second trimester; and higher levels of somatization and pregnancy-specific stress during the third trimester.

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The findings suggest “various altered psychological and hormonal variables throughout the whole gestation period in comparison to those women who will not suffer postpartum depression,” said lead researcher María Isabel Peralta-Ramírez, PhD, of the Brain, Mind, and Behavior Research Center at the University of Granada in Spain.

“Detecting those differences is the key to anticipate the psychological state of the mother as well as the consequences for the baby that said state could mean."

—Jolynn Tumolo


Caparros-Gonzalez RA, Romero-Gonzalez B, Strivens-Vilchez H, Gonzalez-Perez R, Martinez-Augustin O, Peralta-Ramirez MI. Hair cortisol levels, psychological stress and psychopathological symptoms as predictors of postpartum depression. PLoS One. 2017 August 28;12(8):e0182817.

Hair cortisol levels predict which mothers are more likely to suffer postpartum depression [press release]. Granada, Spain: University of Granada; November 13, 2017.

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