Understanding the link between Hormones and Mental Health.

Article published at: Agora London Jan 22, 2024
Understanding the link between Hormones and Mental Health.
All Hormone Health

You’ve probably heard about how hormones impact our mental health but what does this really mean?

Not everyone realises just how profound this link is and the various factors that can influence it. For instance, hormonal contraceptives, which contain both oestrogen and progesterone, have the potential to impact brain function and might contribute to depression in certain individuals. 

What the latest research says about it.

Cutting-edge research consistently recognises the profound impact of hormones on mental health, as these chemical messengers play a pivotal role in regulating moods and emotions. Virtually all our hormones have an influence on our mood, emotions, and mental well-being. They in fact act as chemical messengers from the brain and when their production is imbalanced, it can disrupt communication between the central nervous system and the rest of the body.

Which hormones may cause anxiety and depression?

Hormones are produced by an intricate "gland" system within our bodies called the endocrine system. Key players in this hormonal orchestra include serotonin and cortisol. Serotonin is responsible for mood and behaviour regulation. Imbalances in serotonin can contribute to the development of depressive and anxiety disorders. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that controls stress in the body. Stress and depression are characterised by elevated levels of cortisol and many recent studies have addressed the possibility that elevated cortisol is also associated with the origin and development of depression. Apart from being the body’s main stress hormone, Cortisol plays a role in regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycles and reducing inflammation. The mapping of our mood-regulating hormone system is both complex and delicate.

The Role of Stress in Hormonal Imbalance.

Stress has only recently been formally recognised in the medical domain as a trigger for hormonal imbalances. A significant challenge for women is that hormonal imbalance, in turn, contributes to increased anxiety, significantly impacting our mental health. This initiates a vicious circle that is challenging to break, further affecting mental well-being and this is why it is important to identify the symptoms early on.The constant presence of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, in our bloodstream not only demands extra effort from many organs but also hinders the normal production of other hormones crucial for maintaining hormonal balance. Persistent exposure to stressful situations can lead to high levels of cortisol in the body and as already mentioned, elevated cortisol in the body is associated with depression. If you suspect that your hormones are affecting your mental health, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare provider for a diagnosis and to discuss treatment options.

Hormonal Contraceptives and Mental Health Awareness.

In recent times, the medical sector has begun to acknowledge that hormonal contraceptives, containing both oestrogen and progesterone, can affect brain function and may contribute to depression in certain individuals. Although women have been aware of this for some time, unfortunately our concerns have been consistently dismissed by official medical staff until now.

The widespread popularity of oral contraceptive pills can be attributed to their high efficacy and user-friendly nature. Despite these advantages, both physical and psychological adverse effects accompany their use. While the physical risks are well-documented, the psychological consequences are not as thoroughly explored.

Functional brain studies suggest that oestrogen plays a crucial role in regulating the activation of brain regions associated with emotional and cognitive processing, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Additionally, progesterone has been implicated in exacerbating mood symptoms by inducing a decrease in serotonin concentrations.

A comprehensive study conducted in Australia revealed a notable correlation between the use of intrauterine devices (IUDs) containing progestins and the onset of depression, anxiety, and sleep problems in women who did not have these conditions before the use of the IUD.(Source: National Library of Medicine).

There is compelling evidence indicating that both oestrogen and progesterone can influence brain function, potentially contributing to the commonly reported negative mood changes and depression in women using oral contraceptive pills. Discontinuation of these pills is often linked to alterations in mood or an increase in depressive symptoms. Considering the established connection between hormonal contraception and negative mood or depression, caution is imperative for women with a personal or family history of depression. A thorough discussion of a woman's mental health is crucial, given the identified links between depression and certain contraceptives. Unfortunately, this aspect is frequently overlooked, leading to adverse outcomes for women. Urgent attention is needed to enhance community education and provide better information to primary healthcare practitioners regarding the intricate relationship between oral contraceptive pills and depression.

The impact of sex hormones.

Women are highly affected during their life by the fluctuation of many hormones. Throughout a woman's life, sex hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone undergo fluctuations, influencing mood, emotions, and sexuality. Women are particularly affected during various life stages, from monthly hormonal shifts during the menstrual cycle to significant changes during menopause. Unfortunately, hormonal imbalances often contribute to mental health disorders unique to women, including Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), Postpartum Depression, Perimenopause, and Menopause. Recognising and managing symptoms are crucial to re-establish balance, and maintaining a health journal can help identify patterns, fostering confidence and control.

Some common symptoms of hormonal imbalance are:

  •       difficulty focusing
  •       fatigue
  •       mood swings
  •       anxiety

Recognising and understanding a pattern in their manifestation, such as occurring one or two weeks before the menstrual period, not only helps individuals in maintaining a sense of calm, acknowledging it’s a temporary phase, but also enables others to better understand and support them during these times.

Addressing Depression Symptoms and Seeking Help.

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression for more than 2 weeks, it is important to contact your GP and openly discuss your symptoms. Using a health journal can help you identify patterns that are fundamental for an accurate diagnosis. Don’t hesitate to ask your GP to run hormone tests if you think a hormonal condition may be causing anxiety or depression.

Women’s Health in Professional Settings.

Providing comprehensive information about how women are impacted by hormonal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle is essential not only within the confines of school but also in professional settings such as offices and workplaces. Integrating women's health education into workplace programs, can create a more supportive and understanding environment fostering a more inclusive and considerate workplace culture, leading to policies that better support the well-being of female staff.

Tips to Manage Your Hormones.

When dealing with hormonal changes and mental health, it's often more effective to take a holistic approach that goes beyond just scientific methods. This involves making lifestyle adjustments, considering medication as needed, and exploring different therapeutic techniques to address individual symptoms.

Nutrition also plays a significant role in maintaining hormonal balance. Elements such as selenium, iodine, and iron contribute to the functioning of thyroid hormones and help maintain healthy hormonal levels overall. A diet lacking these elements can negatively impact our hormonal balance. Similarly, the production of cortisol can be influenced by specific nutrients like fish oil. Food has the potential to affect the production and secretion of hormones through direct actions on the gut.

Empowering women with knowledge.

It is evident that women face constant challenges in maintaining hormonal equilibrium due to internal and external factors. Therefore, it is crucial to gain a deeper understanding of these factors. Empowering women with knowledge about their bodies and behaviours is vital for fostering autonomy in navigating the complexities of hormonal balance.

In the current landscape where we are overwhelmed with information from social media, we recognise the need for accurate and transparent information, ensuring our audience is well-informed about health-related topics.

 

(Main Source: National Library of Medicine).

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