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Tale of the tongue: Saliva test used to help detect depression in boys

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Although people generally associate depression with teenage girls more than with boys, the truth is that nearly 1 out of 6 people end up suffering from clinical depression at some time or another during their lives (regardless of gender), with most bouts beginning before the age of 24.

And while there is currently “no biological test to predict the onslaught of depression,” Joe Herbert of the University of Cambridge in the UK, and his colleagues have discovered that by using samples of saliva to measure levels of the stress hormone cortisol in adolescent males with mild symptoms, they can “identify those who will end up suffering major depression” later in life.

After studying 1,800 boys aged 12-19 by examining their cortisol levels, as well as reviewing the teenagers’ own reports of their depression symptoms for three years, Herbert and his team found that the boys who had “high cortisol levels and mild depression were up to 14 times more likely to suffer clinical depression than those with normal levels.” Curiously, girls with similarly elevated levels, were only 4 times as prone to develop the disorder.

The reason for this may lie in the fact that gender specific hormones (estrogen and progesterone for females and androgen for males) may react differently to cortisol, opined Dr. Carmine Pariante of Kings College in London. Pariante, a professor of biological psychiatry, was not associated with Herbert’s study. However, he did not that “all hormones, including sexual hormones, influence brain function and behavior in varying ways.”

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