Reproductive Postponement and Human Depression
Methods and Results Page 3

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Methods and Results
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The rodent evidence suggests that endocrinological methods are the most appropriate to the question of whether there is a reproductive postponement state in humans. In particular, we should consider the endocrinological aspects of female fertility and the endocrinological responses to social stress in both men and women.


The human phenomenon of amenorrhea can be understood as a particular case of the reproductive postponement state. Social stress can cause amenorrhea, presumably through the operation of corticosteroid secretion and the suppression of gonadal hormone production (21). Instead of characterizing amenorrhea as a pathological condition in all cases, as is often done in the medical literature, it can often be seen as an adaptive response, postponing reproductive activity until a more appropriate time in the life of a woman. A good example is the frequent occurrence of amenorrhea in female athletes during intensive training.

Another example of the reproductive postponement state in humans is the delay in the age of puberty that occurs under conditions of inadequate diet or social stress (22). Again, the adaptive value of such a phenomenon is easy to understand in certain social situations.

Although human depression is usually considered to be pathological and a form of "mental illness," it is more appropriately understood as a case of reproductive postponement with adaptive features. It occurs under conditions of social stress, is mediated by elevated corticosteroids and depressed production of gonadal hormones, and is characterized by lowered function of the motivational systems of social behavior, including sexual activity: aggression, and social display, including facial expression and vocal communication.

The hormonal aspects of human depressions are well documented, although their significance is not generally recognized. Since the early work reviewed by Rubin and Mandel (23), many studies have shown that corticosteroid levels are elevated during depression (24,25,26,27). Gonadal hormones are suppressed, although there have been fewer studies of this important fact (28, 29, 30). Presumably these hormones affect social behavior in humans as they do in other animals, as we have documented in the case of female sexual behavior (31).

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