Hormones and Mental Health

hormones

Maintaining good mental health is a daily practice, just like maintaining good physical health. Exercise, a nutrient-rich diet, mindfulness, and meditation practices, as well as social connections, are all factors which promote good mental health, and should not be overlooked.

However, beyond our own efforts to keep ourselves healthy and functional, there are often other factors that influence our wellbeing. From genetics and personality, to learned emotional resilience – which could be argued is a result of early environmental factors – every element plays a role in how we perceive our mental wellbeing and moods. All too often though, one element often overlooked in terms of mental health, is the influence of our hormones.


What are Hormones?

Hormones are substances within the body which acts as chemical messengers.[1] They are released by the endocrine system and are responsible for the control of bodily processes such as hunger, reproduction, stress, the fight/flight response, and metabolism, to name a few.

Hormones need to be balanced within the body to sustain normal, healthy functioning. A hormone imbalance refers to a state within the body where the levels of hormones required for proper functioning are not present. As a result of hormonal imbalance, there a many adverse symptoms that individuals can potentially experience, including:

  • Anxiety.
  • Fatigue.
  • Depression.
  • Weight fluctuation.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Appetite changes.
  • Changes to sex drive.

 

Types of Hormones

 

Adrenal

These hormones are essential for the maintenance of our overall health. An imbalance of our adrenal hormones, eg., prolonged, elevated cortisol levels as a result of chronic stress, can lead to hyperglycaemia, obesity, hypertension, and memory impairment.

 

Thyroid

A thyroid-stimulating hormone is responsible for how our body utilises its energy.

 

Sex (or Gonadal) Hormones

These include oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. They are present in both females and male, but in different ratios. Imbalances in these hormones are common around or outside menopause, as well as in males.

 


Mental Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance

Hormonal imbalances can have noticeable effects on our mental wellbeing. The most significant mental impact usually occurs as a result of imbalance in the sex, or gonadal, hormones.

Dominant levels of oestrogen tend to result in feelings of anxiety, panic attacks, stress, irritability, mood swings, worrying, lack of energy, a depressed mood, and problems with sleeping.

When testosterone is too low, individuals tend to experience feelings of confusion, a reduced libido, issues with sleep, and some of the symptoms associated with oestrogen dominance outlined above.

 

Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Many patients and physicians alike opt for Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT) as an approach to treating hormonal imbalance and its impact on our mental health and wellbeing, whether the imbalance is a result of menopause in women or due to other factors, like genes or chronic stress. HRT is a method which involves assessing what hormones are out of balance and medically replacing them. It can offer relief to menopausal women by reducing some of the associated symptoms, like hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and a reduced libido.[2] HRT can also help in preventing the onset or progression of osteoporosis.[3]

However, use of HRT brings its own risks. Though a study found that rates of depression were lower in a group which used hormones – 17% compared to 32% in the control group[4] – the use of hormones can cause other risks, like an increased risk of blood clots and stroke.[5] Those who opt for HRT as a means of treating a hormonal imbalance should take the time to do adequate research about the advantages and disadvantages of its use.

 

Treating Hormonal Imbalance with a Functional and Integrative Approach

Before any medical approach is taken, it is important to address one’s lifestyle and any relevant considerations that could play a role in exacerbating difficulties for mental health and wellbeing. High stress levels over a sustained period of time lead to a prolonged release of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can in turn increase an individual’s anxiety and distress. Therefore, it is advisable to address one’s stressors and work on resolving them before chemical intervention is applied.

As an alternative to using external chemicals to manage symptoms, the functional approach will look at your lifestyle and highlight where changes could be made to improve symptoms from within.

One lifestyle change considered to improve symptoms is dietary optimisation. This refers to reducing your intake of inflammatory foods like caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, and increasing your consumption of healthy fats.

It is worth noting that many personal care and plastic products contain a chemical known as ‘xenoestrogen’, which is similar to oestrogen. Contact with this chemical should be minimised if oestrogen levels are too high (a theory known as ‘oestrogen dominance’).

Exercise, of course, is also a vital factor. Regular exercise can improve your sleep cycle, and sleep is known to be a major factor in health issues related to hormonal imbalances.

 

 

Sources:

[1] Medlineplus.gov. 2016. Hormones | Endocrine Glands | Medlineplus. [online] Available at: <https://medlineplus.gov/hormones.html> [Accessed 28 May 2020].

[2] nhs.uk. 2019. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hormone-replacement-therapy-hrt/> [Accessed 28 May 2020].

[3] nhs.uk. 2019. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hormone-replacement-therapy-hrt/> [Accessed 28 May 2020].

[4] Bilodeau, K., 2018. Hormone Therapy For Depression: Are The Risks Worth The Benefits? – Harvard Health Blog. [online] Harvard Health Blog. Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/hormone-therapy-for-depression-are-the-risks-worth-the-benefits-2018111615378> [Accessed 28 May 2020].

[5] Bilodeau, K., 2018. Hormone Therapy For Depression: Are The Risks Worth The Benefits? – Harvard Health Blog. [online] Harvard Health Blog. Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/hormone-therapy-for-depression-are-the-risks-worth-the-benefits-2018111615378> [Accessed 28 May 2020].

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