In last week’s edition of our health feedback, I covered two common underlying causes of mood disorders:

1. Neurotransmitter imbalance & its relation to nutrient deficiencies

2. Digestive impacts on brain function through the enteric nervous system

This week, I will discuss a hormonal link in mood disorders, specifically focusing on the impact of Estrogen in mood disorders.

Hormones and Mood: The Estrogen-Serotonin Connection

It is common knowledge and the punch line of many societal jokes: cyclical changes in women’s menses create “mood disruptions”. As a Naturopathic Doctor, it’s important for me to explain to all those patient husbands out there that this isn’t just an excuse made by your wife every 1-2 weeks out of the month, it is a scientific fact. There exists a multitude of evidence that hormonal fluctuations affect the brain through various mechanisms, including interactions with neurotransmitters!

In fact, disorders such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause are diagnosed according to psychological as well as physiological symptoms. In fact, a recent addition to the American Psychiatric Association’s DSMV IV criteria, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe form of PMS, is classified as a diagnosable psychiatric disorder.

Furthermore, according to MA General Hospital, 40% of women who seek help for PMDD have a premenstrual exacerbation of an underlying mood disorder rather than PMDD. What this translates to is that hormones not only affect mood in general, they can exacerbate an already imbalanced brain.

The effect of estrogen on neurotransmitters has recently been highlighted in integrative medicine, with its link to serotonin getting the most attention. Estrogen has been said to exert a calming effect on the brain through this interaction. Therefore, during the second phase of menstruation, when estrogen levels fall and progesterone rises, women tend to feel more anxious and off balance.

Furthermore, in a society with high levels of xenoestrogens (artificial estrogens produced through environmental toxins), estrogen dominant patterns can exacerbate a progesterone deficiency, in men as well as women! This can lead to more intense mood swings, as progesterone can be calming in itself, as Dr. Lee explains in his famous book on menopause.

Estrogen dominance also affects thyroid levels. This is due to the fact that estrogen binds thyroid binding globulin in the bloodstream making it less available to make thyroid hormone, and creating hypothyroid symptoms. One main feature of hypothyroidism is depression, a major mood disorder in the United States.

Another factor in hormonal balance is stress. Stress can cause a decrease in sex hormone availability, because with high stress, hormonal output will shift to cortisol instead of the sex hormones. This creates a pathway for insulin resistance, estrogen dominance, and adrenal stress.

In summary, proper hormonal balances of estrogen, progesterone, and all hormones is an important factor for women and men to cope with emotional triggers and handle the stresses of everyday life. I recommend that women and men with hormonal and mood disorders see a licensed integrative or functional medical practitioner skilled in evaluating if hormonal imbalances are causing the symptoms of mood disorder. This is best down with a combination of blood tests and a comprehensive intake evaluation and an individualized protocol for your particular needs can be implemented.

Stay tuned for more information on mood imbalances in future health feedbacks!! J


Estrogen and Cortisol: PMID: 19185443, PMID: 19010617

Estrogen and Serotonin: PMID: 19049819, PMID: 19046994

Progesterone and Mood: PMID:16724185

Lee, J. What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Menopause.Time Warner Group. 1996

Pick, October 2009.

Hyman, M.The UltraMind Solution.2008.

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