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Anxiety, hormones and better treatments

Research awardFellows Award programme

Funding period 2013 - 2016

InstitutionUniversity of New South Wales



Dr Bronwyn Graham is investigating whether hormone levels can explain why some people respond better to anxiety treatment than others. 

The project

Women are twice as likely as men to develop anxiety disorders, but little is known about why.

And while psychological treatments for anxiety work for many people, they don’t work for everyone.

Those two facts were the starting point for Bronwyn and her team as they began investigating the connection between hormones and anxiety.

And the question they are now seeking to answer could have lasting consequences for the way we think about the condition. Could natural variation in hormones make anxiety more likely and affect the way people respond to treatment? 

The process

Through previous research Bronwyn has shown in animals that sex hormones can affect the mechanism that controls fear.

She is now taking this study further – investigating whether natural variations in the hormone oestrogen can alter how women process fear, and testing whether oestrogen can make it more difficult to learn to manage fear. 

The potential

Ultimately this project could enable anxiety treatments to be tailored in relation to oestrogen levels – which vary naturally as a result of periods, pregnancy and the menopause.

So, for instance, treatments such as exposure therapy – when people are exposed to fears in a safe environment – could be delivered at different times or in different ways based on oestrogen levels.

As a result, we could enable more people to cope with anxiety, based on their personal situation.

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