Stress during pregnancy: Increases the risk of mood disorders in female offspring.
Cortisol levels in the mother’s blood during pregnancy may influence the rapid development of fetal brain systems, which are frequently altered in psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. Studies on cortisol levels during pregnancy and the neurologic development of the fetus near birth have been conducted to advance understanding in this field and better understand the aetiology of these problems.
According to a new research study re-published in Biological Psychiatry, future mums with high cortisol levels increase their children’s anxiety and depressive behaviours as early as the age of two.
Stronger communication models between important cerebral regions for sensorimotor and emotional treatment appear to be at the root of the cortisol maternal’s negative effect on developmental behaviour. The findings emphasize the importance of prenatal situations in a child’s susceptibility to mental health issues later in life.
How was this study on the effects of stress during pregnancy on offspring carried out?
Cortisol is the stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands during pregnancy. It is critical for blood glucose balance and the release of sugar from the body’s stores in response to increased energy demand. Cortisol is also involved in fat and protein metabolism. It has anti-inflammatory properties and aids in the regulation of sleep.
Cortisol levels were measured in the 70 mothers who participated in the study, and the results revealed a typical variation. To calculate the total cortisol level during pregnancy, cortisol levels were measured over several days at the beginning, middle, and end of the pregnancy. Then, the researchers examined connectivity in newborns shortly after birth, before the environment of the outside world begins to shape the development of their brain, and they measured depressive behaviours and anxiety in infants at the age of two years.
According to one researcher, having a higher cortisol level during pregnancy is linked to functional changes in the brain’s connectivity, which affects how different regions of the brain communicate with one another. The amygdala, a critical region of the brain for emotional processing, has been implicated in altered connectivity. Two years later, this model of cerebral connectivity has predicted anxiety and depression symptoms.
What was the outcome of this study on stress during pregnancy on offspring?
Cortisol levels during pregnancy are significantly related to fetal amygdale connectivity in a gender-specific manner. A high cortisol level was linked to a stronger connection of the amygdala to the brain regions involved in treatment and sensory integration, as well as to the default network in women, and a weaker connection to these brain regions in men. A high maternal cortisol level was associated with more severe internalization symptoms only in women, and this association was mediated by a stronger amygdale neonatal connectivity.
The findings point to a possible mechanism by which the prenatal environment predisposes women to develop mood disorders. The findings support the theory that stress of future mums can alter cerebral connectivity in developing fetuses, implying that the vulnerability to developing a mental illness is programmed from birth. This could be the first time that the risk of common psychiatric problems begins to vary between men and women.
During pregnancy, a normal variation in cortisol levels is linked to an amygdale function that is coordinated shortly after birth in a gender-specific manner. The link discovered between cortisol maternal and more severe internalization symptoms in girls via changes in amygdala connectivity during pregnancy may be relevant for the aetiology of sexual differences in internalization problems, which are more common in women.
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