Feeling blue? Can’t seem to find the energy to get off the couch? Having trouble focusing on anything? You may assume it’s depression, and if you talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider, you could very likely walk away with a prescription for antidepressants. But what if it isn’t really depression? What if your symptoms are due to something else—something that antidepressants won’t help? For example, did you know that hormonal imbalances can lead to many symptoms of depression?
The Impact of Hormones on Mental Health
Hormones are chemical messengers that can have a powerful influence on the brain and your mental well-being. When hormone levels are balanced, you tend to have stable moods and feel energetic, motivated, and mentally sharp. When hormone levels are out of whack, however, you may experience symptoms that are associated with psychiatric illnesses, such as depression. Symptoms can include:
Lack of motivation
Common Hormonal Imbalances That Can Cause Depressive Symptoms
Of the hundreds of hormones our bodies produce, here are four that are known to lead to symptoms of depressive disorders when they are out of balance.
Thyroid: The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that plays a powerful role in keeping your brain and body healthy. It is involved in the production of many neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and GABA—all of which are involved in mood regulation. Problems occur when thyroid dysfunction causes the gland to produce too little hormone (hypothyroidism) or too much hormone (hyperthyroidism). In fact, thyroid dysfunction is directly linked to one-third of all depressions.
Estrogen: Estrogen also influences the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Too much or too little estrogen can alter neurotransmitter levels and lead to feelings of depression.
Progesterone: Often called the “relaxation hormone,” progesterone has a calming effect when it is produced in optimal levels. When hormones are off-kilter or when the relaxation hormone is in low supply, it can lead to depression, as well as irritability, anxiety, sleepless nights, and brain fog.
Testosterone: In both men and women, testosterone helps wards off depression, in addition to cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Low testosterone levels have been shown to increase symptoms of depression and anxiety, such as trouble concentrating, lack of motivation, and fatigue.
What Causes Hormone Problems?
Many things can interfere with healthy hormone production, including:
Eating a diet high in refined sugar: Consuming too much sugar disrupts normal hormone function and can result in excessive levels of estrogen in relation to progesterone, which increases the risk for mood swings, depression, and anxiety.
Chronic stress: When stress hits, our bodies respond by releasing hormones that put you into fight-or-flight mode. But when stress is unrelenting, the constant flood of these stress hormones disrupts the production of the body’s other important chemical messengers, leading to hormonal dysfunction.
Exposure to environmental toxins: Many everyday environmental toxins, such as pesticides, are known to interfere with normal hormone production.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs): Head injuries often cause damage to the pituitary gland, a tiny, pea-sized organ located at the base of the brain. Known as the body’s “master gland,” the pituitary regulates hormone production, but when it is damaged, it can disrupt the entire hormonal system.
Overcoming Depressive Symptoms Related to Hormonal Dysfunction
When hormonal imbalances are behind your feelings of sadness and loss of energy, antidepressants won’t get your mind right. But if no one ever tests your hormone levels, you will never know that hormonal dysfunction could be contributing to your depressive symptoms. This could leave you going from one antidepressant medication to another in search of relief without success.
It’s also important to investigate whether a past head injury may be contributing to hormonal dysfunction. Brain imaging studies can reveal signs of a TBI that could be the root cause of the hormonal problems that are contributing to your symptoms. In this case, healing your brain is the key to achieving healthier hormone levels.
This is why it is so important to make sure you visit a healthcare professional who will check your hormones and scan your brain as part of a comprehensive evaluation. When you get your hormones right, it may improve symptoms of depression by stabilizing your moods, boosting your energy, and clearing away the brain fog.
Credit: Amen Clinics