A saliva test for teenage boys with mild
symptoms of depression could help identify those who will later develop major
depression, a new study says.
Researchers measured the stress
hormone cortisol in teenage boys and found that ones with high levels
coupled with mild depression symptoms were up to 14 times more likely to suffer
clinical depression later in life than those with low or normal cortisol levels.
The test was tried on teenage boys and
girls, but found to be most effective with boys.
About one in six people suffer from
clinical depression at some point in their lives, and most mental health
disorders start before age 24. There is currently no biological test to spot
new way of looking at mental illness
"This is the emergence of a new way of
looking at mental
illness," Joe Herbert of the University of Cambridge and one of the
study authors said at a news conference on Monday. "You don't have to rely
simply on what the patient tells you, but what you can measure inside the
patient," he said.
Herbert compared the new test to ones done
for other health problems, such as heart disease, which evaluate things such as
cholesterol and high
blood sugar to determine a patient's risk.
about mental illness
Herbert and colleagues at the University of
Cambridge observed more than 1 800 teenagers aged 12 to 19 and examined their
cortisol levels with saliva tests. The researchers also collected the teens'
own reports of depression symptoms and tracked diagnoses of mental health
disorders in them for up to three years later.
The boys who had high cortisol levels and
symptoms were up to 14 times more likely to suffer from clinical depression
when compared to other teens with normal levels, while girls with similarly
elevated cortisol levels were only up to four times more likely to develop the
condition. The study was paid for by the Wellcome Trust and the results were
published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of
kids have high levels of cortisol
affects girls and boys differently
Experts suggested that cortisol might
affect boys and girls differently.
"All hormones, including sexual
hormones, influence brain function and behaviour," said Dr Carmine
Pariante, a professor of biological psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry
at King's College London. He was not linked to the study.
Pariante said the gender-specific hormones – androgen
for males and oestrogens and progesterone
for females – might react differently to cortisol and could explain the
difference in risk for teenage boys and girls.
Searching for physical markers
Pariante said the saliva test was promising
and could help target psychological help such as talk therapy for boys at risk
of developing depression. Scientists are increasingly searching for physical
markers in the body of psychiatric
illnesses instead of relying exclusively on a diagnosis based on a patient
kids become depressed teens
"This gives us a biological model to
understand mental health problems the way we understand other medical
conditions," he said, comparing it to how doctors might diagnose a broken
leg based on an X-ray or identify heart disease patients based on high blood
pressure or cholesterol readings. "It will help us identify patients at
risk so we can try to help them as soon as possible."
teens = depressed adults
teen depression really works
Experts say that teen
depression is out of control