Can hormonal imbalances cause mental health problems?
Hormones are chemical messengers that have a vast effect on the functioning of the whole body including the brain. Hormones are responsible for many physical, emotional, and mental processes throughout the body.
They affect growth, reproduction, and energy. Hormones also impact brain chemistry, influence mood, emotions, and mental health.
There is a strong link between hormones and brain function with an ongoing back and forth communication between the brain and hormones.
In optimal function, the brain sends messages that instruct the endocrine glands to produce and release hormones. And hormones also send signals to the brain that influence the brain’s activity.
Female hormones and mental health
Progesterone and estrogen are the main female hormones. But there are other female hormones as well including luteinizing hormone, FSH follicle-stimulating hormone, and prolactin that have a significant role in the reproductive system and may also affect mental health.
And women also produce testosterone but is supposed to be only in a small amount compared to men. Female hormones fluctuate throughout the menstruation cycle, during pregnancy, and later life in perimenopause and menopause.
Of all the reproductive hormones, estrogen seems to have the biggest impact on the body as estrogen has many functions apart from reproduction, affecting many organs such as bones, and the brain.
Estrogen also regulates serotonin the feel-good neurotransmitter, and low estrogen can lead to low serotonin causing mood instabilities, depression, and anxiety.
Some studies have also shown that estrogen affects dopamine, another feel-good neurotransmitter, and a motivation hormone.
Estrogen increases serotonin and beta-endorphins associated with a happy mood. Estrogen also affects acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that affects memory.
Furthermore, estrogen increases norepinephrine by deactivating MAO, an enzyme that inactivates these neurotransmitters and also helps the brain function by encouraging the formation of new synapses.
All these areas can malfunction if there is an estrogen imbalance or the area in the brain they affect is not responding well or is too sensitive to all the fluctuation in estrogen levels.
A link between hormones and mental health also explains why anxiety tends to increase during PMS, menstruation, postpartum, perimenopause, and menopause when estrogen imbalance mostly happens.
Also, it is evident there is a connection between female hormones and mental health because conditions like depression and anxiety affect many women in their productive years than men or postmenopausal women.
Additionally, some mood conditional such as PMS, PMDD, and Postpartum depression only occur in women.
Estrogen and progesterone are low during menstruation and researchers have found that for some women this coincides with periods of mood changes and increased anxiety.
Also, progesterone is a modulator of GABA, which is a calming and happiness neurotransmitter. So when progesterone levels go down anxiety can occur.
And when estrogen level is higher than progesterone then estrogen dominance occurs with its characteristic symptoms of:
- Mid swings
And the symptoms of low estrogen are just as bad such as :
- Brain fogginess
- Memory issues
- Sleep problems
However, science is not quite clear how estrogen, in particular, affects mood and mental health because, for some women, mood changes occur even in optimal levels of estrogen and some women’s moods improve after menopause.
The thinking is that in those cases such women have a different response to estrogen, especially the variations that occur during the menstrual cycle and pregnancy and during the productive years.
Mental Health problems related to estrogen imbalance
Estrogen and PMS
Female hormones fluctuate throughout the life span, and emotional and mood health seems to follow these fluctuations from PMS, to mood changes in pregnancy and postpartum, and later in perimenopause and menopause years.
In each of these phases, many women experience emotional havoc.
Some women, depending on the imbalance and predisposition to mental illness can experience much more exacerbation to their mental health problems at various stages in life.
For some women, the time just before their periods is accompanied by severe physical and mental changes.
During these times of hormonal shifts, mood problems such as depression and anxiety may occur.
PMS is diagnosed when the symptoms are found to interfere with a woman’s quality of life. And PMS symptoms may include feeling overly emotional, irritable, angry, depressed, and anxious.
Sometimes, PMS symptoms are so bad especially in women who have PCOS-Polycystic ovarian syndrome, that some women are diagnosed bipolar when they are not (source).
Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Try to reduce stressors around you and be easy with yourself. Give yourself extra TLC at such times.
Also, make sure your food is super nutritious and you may want to support your hormonal balance with a supplement. MoodyBird from Hum Nutritionals has a chaste berry, and don Quai both of which support hormonal balance and improve your mood.
Please note to always check with your doctor before taking any supplements, and let your doctor know what other medications you are on.
Estrogen and PMDD
Due to the hormonal fluctuations that occur during the menstrual cycle, some women experience severe PMS phenomenon which is accompanied by deep depression every month, a condition known as a dysphoric premenstrual disorder or PMDD.
PMDD is a hormonally based mood disorder thought to be induced by luteal hormones (source), such as luteinizing hormone. Scientists think PMDD occurs because of the way estrogen interacts with the part of the brain that regulates mood.
Research is not clear how the luteal hormones contribute to PMDD. But it appears there is also a likely involvement of androgens-or male hormones and that would explain the irritability common in PMDD.
This link is evident in the research findings that drugs that antagonize, inhibit, or reduce androgen activities such as the birth control Yaz, and SSRI’s tend to improve PMDD.
Postpartum depression and hormonal imbalance
Baby blues occur in at least 80 percent of women a few days after giving birth.
Symptoms can include mood swings, sadness, irritability, sleep disturbances, anhedonia, excessive worry to lack of interest in the baby(source). These usually resolve in a few days to a week to two weeks. But if they persist for weeks then it is likely postpartum depression.
There are many contributing factors to postpartum depression. One of these is that during pregnancy the hormones estrogen and progesterone increase ten folds and then drop suddenly after delivery.
And for breastfeeding mothers, prolactin which comes to increase milk supply also affects dopamine levels.
Dopamine and prolactin have an inverse relationship so that when prolactin is high, dopamine drops making a woman even more depressed.
If the baby blues are not going away after two to three weeks, it is time to see your doctor.
Also, don’t suffer alone. Tell a friend and your loved ones. Get support.
The effects of hormonal imbalance in Perimenopause, menopause, on mental health.
During perimenopause, extreme mood swings can happen and the incidence of depression doubles (source). There can be severe mood changes likely due to the shifts and decline in estrogen and progesterone.
The hormonal changes are more drastic during perimenopause and the mood swings tend to be even more severe then.
During perimenopause, women are more likely to experience perimenopause depression which is accompanied by anger, brain fog, poor memory, and trouble with concentration.
Unfortunately, other discomforts such as hot flashes, night sweats, and sleeplessness, and other life changes in this stage of life increase the mood changes.
Feelings of anxiety and irritability can happen sometimes triggered by hot flashes as well.
And while research shows women are twice as likely to suffer depression as men, it’s still not clear what the connection is between depression and changing hormone levels.
But that there is a link is evident as other studies have found administering estradiol improves signs of psychosis and depression.
PCOS and mental health.
POCS develops when several fluid-filled cysts clusters that contain immature eggs develop in the ovaries. PCOS leads to a hormonal imbalance but it may also occur be due to hormone imbalances as well.
PCOS is characterized by high levels of the male hormones androgens and insulin resistance.
The signs and symptoms of PCOS are many including the following:
- Facial hair
- Insulin resistance and diabetes
- Anxiety and depression
PCOS affects a woman in many ways that impact a woman’s life.
Physical changes such as facial hair, weight gain, thinning hair, and more can make one feel bad enough and even depressed.
Increased androgens and cortisol, also lead to irritability. Women with PCOS are three times more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression studies show.
Other studies also found an increased risk of bipolar, OCD, depression, and anxiety, and these were worse in women with PCOS.
Insulin Imbalance and effect on mental health
Can insulin imbalance cause mental health problems?
Research consistently shows there is a connection between diabetes, insulin resistance, and depression. According to studies, this link may be due to increased dopamine clearing, mitochondrial dysfunction, and increased oxidative stress in the brain. After all, Insulin resistance occurs in inflammatory conditions.
See the related article to see the dangers of chronic inflammation.
Insulin imbalance leads to glucose intolerance where there is too much glucose circulating in the blood. This means the cells are starving of energy and you are therefore having an energy deficit.
You feel tired and you experience mood changes. Both high blood sugar and low blood sugar cause mood changes.
You get physically ill. In fact, you can get confused especially when blood sugar is too low.
So being diabetic which is both a hormonal and an inflammatory condition can lead to mental health problems.
To minimize symptoms, it is important to adhere to your treatment plan for your blood sugar. Avoid extreme highs and lows by following your diet and medication regimen properly.
And in all these cases of hormonal imbalance self-care is important ensuring you sleep well and rest and eat real natural foods and minimizing sugary foods even when they are natural.
The thyroid hormone imbalance and mental health
Your thyroid is the body’s master gland. It drives metabolism, a term denoting many functions.
Low thyroid levels are associated with depression.
Per the research, there are syndromes of mental health problems that occur due to Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
The thyroid gland produces T4 and T3 hormones. And T3s play a larger role in mental health.
This is evidenced by the presence of many T3 receptors in the brain. When the brain doesn’t get enough T3 mental problems as depression and anxiety can happen as well as other mental health problems.
A dysfunction in thyroid levels can occur either in the brain or in the thyroid and profoundly affect mental health.
Two main thyroid hormone dysfunctions can occur, namely hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Some common signs of hypothyroidism include fatigue depression and anxiety.
Brain fog and memory loss can also happen in hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism leads to irritability, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, and poor memory.
In addition to these symptoms that directly impact mental health, physical discomforts also can lead to bad moods and unhappiness. Mania and confusion can also occur in cases of thyroid disorder.
According to Mayo Clinic, thyroid disease can lead to anxiety and depression, and the severity of symptoms is consistent with the severity of the thyroid disease.
Other changes such as sensitivity to heat and cold, weight gain or loss, fast or very slow heart rate can occur and these also affect mood.
Discomforts of bowel problems including chronic constipation and menstrual irregularities further cause more discomforts and further worsen mood.
How to protect your mental health during times of hormonal changes.
- Keep track of times when you feel mood changes and see if they coincide with times of hormonal shifts such as before your periods, or after childbirth, or as expected during perimenopause and menopause.
- Seek medical care. Talk to your doctor if mood changes are so severe that they are interfering with day to days activities and function.
- Keep active. Exercise and movement can really improve your mental health as our bodies are made to move. You can boost your mood with physical movement. Exercise improves blood flow and boosts the production of endorphins and lifts mood.
- Eat healthily. A healthy diet is necessary and also plays a part in mental health. Even in times of hormonal changes, nutritional deficits may increase the impact on mood. Help yourself by making sure you are meeting nutritional needs such as those of magnesium, B vitamins, Vitamin D, A, Iron, vitamin K, and more that play a part in hormone and neurotransmitter function and metabolism.
- Hydrate well. When you are dehydrated you tend to feel sluggish, and irritable. Dehydration will just make the problems caused by hormonal shifts worse. Drink real water and minimize coffee and energy drinks which can cause a high and crash situation.
- Stay connected with the people who matter in your life. Being in the company of people you love has a major positive effect on our psyche as we are after all social beings. Notice how you feel when you are lonely and how happy the right company makes you feel. Take time to nurture important relationships.
So in essence, mental health issues have many causes. And hormonal imbalance can also contribute to mental health problems. It is good to be more aware and to take measures to minimize symptoms.
But you definitely should always talk to your doctor first and have blood work done to check hormonal levels as well as other labs.
Then you know what choices you should make and what changes to make and try to help yourself.
So as you can see hormones do really impact mental health. In many cases, an imbalance is a cause. Sometimes one is more sensitive to changes.
It is therefore important to practice living a healthy lifestyle keep hormones in balance by avoiding toxins in some foods, beauty products, plastics, and many more.
Read next: How to balance your hormones naturally.
Related posts: Supplements for hormonal balance
The best foods to balance your hormones naturally.
So let me know, what is your experience with hormonal imbalance? Have you seen a relationship between hormones and mental health?
Your blog is very informative 👌. There needs to be a lot more conversation on Mental Health especially among African Americans. Love the correlations you showcased between mental health and hormonal imbalances. Cortisol is always an interest of mine. God knows that mine is sky high from this Covid-19 pandemic.
Thank you so much for reading. You are right, Africans d shy away from mental health. t was always taboo traditionally, but things are changing and now there is a bit more conversation on mental health still a lot more can be done.