Saliva may be the key for testing the stress hormone cortisol plus depressive symptoms to help doctors identify boys at high risk for depression, British researchers say.
Ian Goodyer of Cambridge University’s Department of Psychiatry said teenage boys with symptoms of depression and raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol were up to 14 times more likely to develop major depression than those who did not possess those traits.
The study was paid for by the Wellcome Trust, and results were published online Monday in Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. The study identified the first biomarker for major, or clinical depression, which could result in boys at greatest risk of depression being diagnosed properly and treated at an early stage of depression.
“Through our research, we now have a very real way of identifying those teenage boys most likely to develop clinical depression,” Goodyer said in a statement. “This will help us strategically target preventions and interventions at these individuals and hopefully help reduce their risk of serious episodes of depression and their consequences in adult life.”
For the study, the researchers collected samples of saliva from hundreds of teenagers measuring the levels of cortisol as well as self-reported information on symptoms of depression. The researchers divided the data collected from the teenagers into one of four groups depending on their symptoms of depression and their cortisol levels.
The teens were monitored from between 12 to 36 months, after which they determined which group was most likely to develop clinical depression and other psychiatric disorders.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, girls with high cortisol levels and depressive symptoms were four times more likely to develop clinical depression than those with neither, alluding to gender differences in how depression develops, the researchers discovered.
The test was conducted on both girls and boys, however it was found to be most effective with boys.