What’s the deal with mental health and hormones?
As a woman, I am sure you are fully aware of the influences hormones can have on your life.
The truth is that hormones truly affect everything from menstrual cycles to how you think, feel, and even navigate everyday complexities.
Hormones are there at every turn, either supporting you and giving you the drive you need or bogging you down when you least need it.
If you know all too much of the influence hormones can have on your mental health, this post is for you!
We dive deep into the relationship between hormones and mental health as it relates to mood disorders, cognitive function, and the signs and symptoms to look out for when it comes to hormonal imbalances.
Of course, we also mention some tips to help manage your hormones for better mental health as well. Keep reading for all the details!
Hey… Are you on a hormonal roller coaster with no end in sight? At New York City Nutrition, we get it. We work with women every day to get their hormones in check to live happier, more fulfilled lives! Schedule your discovery call here to get started on your journey!
An Intro to the Hormonal System
A woman's hormonal system is not easily explained.
Your hormonal system, also known as the endocrine system, works with a number of organs to respond to and regulate various hormones.
Hormones are chemical messengers that tell our bodies what to do, how to do it, and for how long. They circulate throughout your bloodstream until they reach a cell containing an appropriate receptor to bind to and transmit a message to behave a certain way. Different hormones convey different messages and perform different functions.
As a woman, you may be aware of the major hormonal shifts that take place during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
But what is less talked about is the hormonal shifts and imbalances that can also take place in between these significant phases and the symptoms, such as mood disorders and stress, they can provoke.
Hormones, Mood, and Your Menstrual Cycle
Estrogen and progesterone are the main female sex hormones that drive your monthly cycle through their ebbs and flows.
Estrogen specifically is a hormone that plays a major role in your brain and emotions because it is associated with serotonin.
During the beginning of your cycle, known as your follicular phase, estrogen is rising, also causing an increase in serotonin. You may feel happier and energetic at this time following the conclusion of your period.
The rise in estrogen levels also suppresses cortisol, your stress hormone, and adrenaline, a hormone involved in your fight or flight response.
After ovulation and as you near your luteal phase, estrogen levels begin to drop, and progesterone begins to rise. The incline in progesterone can have a calming effect on your brain, allowing you to feel more relaxed and even sleep better! The decline in estrogen at the same time, however, can lead to low moods because of the decrease in serotonin.
This cycle of moods and hormones all happens within the course of your ~28-day cycle. Crazy right? It is no wonder that you can feel like your mood is all over the place sometimes.
Hormones and Mood Disorders
Major depression is twice as common in women than it is for men. I am sure you can guess by now that hormones are the culprit!
Studies of the brain have shown a reduction in gray matter in the brain of females of reproductive age. This shows how the fluctuation of female sex hormones is expressed in the brain in areas important for emotional processing that may predispose females to mood disorders.
These mood disorders can range from depression, irritability, anxiety, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), bipolar disorder, etc. More research is being done regarding the vulnerability of women to these disorders, especially during times of large hormonal shifts like menopause and pregnancy.
Stress Hormones and Mental Health
Thinking beyond sex hormones, there is also the interplay of stress hormones that can have a major impact on your mental health.
Cortisol is the primary hormone that is released in response to stress. The main responsibilities of cortisol include:
Preparing the body to deal with stress or danger
Helping control blood sugar and blood pressure
Regulating how the body uses food and gets energy (metabolism)
Helping the body recognize when it is time to sleep and when to wake up
Chronic stress can cause an imbalance of cortisol, which can have major effects on your mental health. While having some cortisol is normal and a healthy response, having too much can put your body in a constant stress response known as fight or flight mode.
When fight and flight mode is activated for too long, it can lead to:
Memory or concentration issues
Chronic stress can be a contributing factor to hormonal imbalances as well as disturbances in your mood and mental health. Finding ways to regulate your cortisol and reduce stress in your life is critical to supporting a stable mood.
Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For
Hormonal imbalances can affect so many areas of your life because they can present themselves in unique ways. Here are a few of the most common signs and symptoms to look out for when it comes to hormonal imbalances and mental health issues:
Fatigue. Waking up after a full night of rest and still tired is not normal! Hormonal imbalances can affect your energy levels and make you feel more fatigued than you should. The fatigue can also be a result of insomnia, which is a common sign of hormonal imbalances as well.
Mood Swings. If you cannot seem to get your emotions under control, your hormones might be the cause. Feeling unstable in your moods can impact your relationships and daily life.
Irritability. Being irritable is an unfavorable trait, especially when there seems to be nothing you can do about it. If you feel as if you are unable to feel the highs in life, this could be a sign of hormonal imbalance.
Weight Gain/Loss. Outside of mental health, hormonal imbalances can also affect your metabolism, resulting in weight gain or loss.
Low Libido. The effect hormones can have on your mental health can impact your sex drive as well. You may lose interest in your partner, lose your sexual desire, or have lowered confidence, making you want to avoid anything sexual.
Irregular or Missing Periods. One of the more apparent signs of hormonal imbalances is a lack of menstruation. If you are missing a period, have irregular periods, or even incredibly painful periods, then your hormones are most likely imbalanced.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, book a strategy call here, to talk to one of our hormone-specialized dietitians!
How to Manage Hormones for Better Mental Health
Engaging in healthy habits can reduce stress levels, which can help to keep hormones regulated.
Making small changes in your daily routine will create the base for a great wellness routine centered around healing your hormones and bettering your mental health!
Here are a few great tips to start managing your hormones…
Daily Movement. Exercising every day is one activity that can help balance your hormones. This does not have to include long, hard, or crazy workouts, a simple walk will do! Exercising can help decrease cortisol levels and also allow your body to release dopamine as a part of its reward system. Aim for 30 minutes a day of an activity you enjoy that will not seem like a chore to do!
Stress Management Techniques. In response to the rise in cortisol that can have a large impact on your hormones and mental health, it is important to have a toolkit of stress management techniques. While we try our best, you will not be able to eliminate ALL the stressors in your life. Having techniques like meditation, breathwork, walking, talking with friends, and yoga can help to relieve the unavoidable stressors of daily life.
Therapy. The journey to balance your hormones can be difficult. Therapy has been shown to be one of the most powerful ways to alleviate symptoms caused by mental health issues. If you need help, do not be afraid to reach out!
Sleep Hygiene. As one of the symptoms of imbalanced hormones is fatigue and insomnia, it is crucial you are doing everything you can to get the best night's rest you can. Setting up a bedtime routine can make the most significant difference in the quality of sleep you are getting and your cortisol levels before bed. Try limiting screen time before bed, and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to help set your circadian rhythm.
Eat a Balanced Diet. The nutrients you put into your body are what allow your hormones to be produced. In order to support proper hormonal production and detoxification, ensure you are eating for blood sugar balance. This means including a protein, fiber, and fat source at every meal for blood sugar regulation and hormonal health.
Hormone Testing: The DUTCH Test
One of the best ways to assess both your sex hormone imbalance and your stress hormones is through functional testing.
The DUTCH test is the test we run here at New York City Nutrition, which provides a comprehensive view of all your sex hormones, their metabolites, your cortisol levels throughout the day, as well as your adrenal health.
The DUTCH test is one of the only tests that allows a clear picture of your hormones in one simple test.
It is essential to see where your hormonal imbalance lies in order to provide the correct interventions personalized for you and your hormones!
Our team of dietitians at New York City Nutrition is trained to analyze these tests to be able to provide you with tailored lifestyle, nutrition, and supplementation recommendations needed to help balance your hormones and take back your mental health.
Use this link to schedule your complimentary discovery call!
The Takeaway: Hormones and Mental Health
Hormones truly control so many aspects of your life, which is why it is essential that you provide them with the continuing support they need!
The impact hormones can have on your mental health, including your mood, memory, cognition, and decision-making, can make seeking help even more difficult. Being aware, hopeful, and an active participant in your health can help the process.
Struggling with mental health issues is serious and not something you should ignore or try to power through. You are not too strong to ask for help.
If you suspect your hormones are the cause of your mental health struggles, trust your gut and get your hormones tested. Don’t wait to start feeling better, schedule your discovery call today!