A new study has linked the size of the pituitary gland to the onset of early puberty and depression in young people.

Orygen Youth Health (OYH) is Australia’s largest youth-focused mental health organisation.  They carried out research on 155 adolescents over a three year period. All participants were Melbourne high school students.

The findings of this study have been seen as controversial by some in the medical profession and it has been received with some caution because of the links it makes. 

Researchers involved in the study said “We speculate that an enlarged pituitary gland in adolescents with early pubertal onset might be associated with hyperactivation of the hormonal stress response, leading to increased susceptibility to environmental stressors, and subsequent development of depressive symptoms.”

The study, Pituitary volume mediates the relationship between pubertal timing and depressive symptoms during adolescence, advocates that early intervention would be beneficial; “treatment or prevention efforts in early maturing adolescents should take into account a biological component to aetiology by recognising that the stress system might be biologically hyperactive in these individuals.”

However there has been caution in the wider medical community with Professor Ken Ho, an endocrinologist at the University of Queensland advising that “Caution should be exercised to the interpretation of studies that look at associations between measures such as puberty, pituitary volume and depression, within which they have found associations.”

“Associations do not establish causation,” he said. “In this instance we do not know if an enlarged pituitary is the cause or effect of early puberty, or simply if a large pituitary is a phenomenon of puberty in as much as growth or height is a phenomenon of puberty.”

The study concluded that “Our findings suggest that neurobiological mechanisms are partly responsible for the link between early pubertal timing and depressive symptoms in adolescents.“

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: Orygen Youth Health