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Hormone Therapy Helps Mental Health of Trans Youth: Study

Hormone Therapy Helps Mental Health of Trans Youth: Study

Doctor and youth talking in a doctor's office setting

So far this year, more than 30 bills have been introduced at the state level to ban or restrict gender-affirming care for young people.

With conservative politicians trying to demonize gender-affirming care, science has a rebuttal: Hormone therapy improves the mental health of transgender youth, according to a new study.

In the study, published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers tracked 315 trans and nonbinary youth receiving hormone therapy for two years. The young people ranged in age from 12 to 20, with an average age of 16. “During the study period, appearance congruence, positive affect, and life satisfaction increased, and depression and anxiety symptoms decreased,” says an online summary of the research.

Youth assigned female at birth and taking testosterone saw greater benefit than those assigned male who were taking estrogen, according to the study authors, who represent four major children’s hospitals. That could be because the outward effects of testosterone, such as a deepening of the voice, are quicker to manifest and more obvious than the effects of estrogen, they noted. Also, there is more social stigma attached to femininity. The researchers suggested that future studies consider a longer follow-up period for youth taking estrogen.

Understanding the role of hormone treatment “would appear crucial, given the documented mental health disparities observed in this population, particularly in the context of increasing politicization of gender-affirming medical care,” the scientists wrote.

So far this year, more than 30 bills have been introduced at the state level to ban or restrict gender-affirming care for young people, with legislators often deeming such care experimental, which it’s not, or even calling it mutilation.

“The study … should be seen as an important scientific counterpoint to the relentless political attacks on the rights of trans youth,” wrote Bloomberg Opinion columnist Lisa Jarvis.

“This work confirms what earlier, smaller, shorter-term studies have found, and is a helpful companion to growing evidence that teens who opt for gender-affirming hormones are committed to that choice,” she added. She cited a study that came out of the Netherlands in October that tracked trans adults who had begun hormone therapy in their youth and found that 98 percent of them continued the treatment in adulthood.

An editorial in the Journal recommended more research on the administration of hormones, such as whether the age at which treatment begins affects the outcome and the impact of the therapy on bone density and fertility. But neither the editorial nor the study questions “the value of treatment itself,” Jarvis pointed out.

“There’s no question that researchers need to continue to understand the best way to help transgender youth lead their happiest and healthiest lives,” she concluded. “But as evidence grows of the benefits of gender-affirming hormones, political efforts to ban them in order to ‘protect’ kids are becoming increasingly disingenuous.”

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