Due to the extreme stress of current events, I have not let up on reiterating the importance of being mindful about how these emotional impacts can have downstream, negative, mental and physical repercussions. I’ve also been providing suggestions to prevent the effects of these unrelenting strains, as I feel naturopathic doctors have many tools that can help to soothe and alleviate some of this suffering.
Recently, I highlighted that the system-wide effects of stress on the mind and body are interconnected with hormonal balance. I felt it was necessary to address this specifically, as hormonal disharmony can contribute to and perpetuate psychological manifestations.
In part one of this series I explained the impact of long-term, chronic stress on sex steroid hormone biosynthesis. I summarized the intricacy of hormonal regulation with its many feedback, control mechanisms and the factors that influence hormonal production, transport, detoxification, elimination, and interaction with target receptors. These complex interactions all affect how hormones are utilized, produced, metabolized, and excreted in all the body systems, including the nervous system and brain. Finally, I explored how hormones interact with specific neurotransmitters that relate to mood, cognitive, and psychological processes.
In this second part, I will delve into the connections between estrogen and progesterone and psychiatric disorders. I also give naturopathic solutions to achieve estrogen and progesterone hormonal and emotional harmony.
In part three, I will look at thyroid, testosterone, and oxytocin. For an overview on how cortisol, the major stress hormone, impacts the brain and body, please refer to my preceding essential oils’ series. (Part 1, Part 2)
Estrogen and Progesterone on the Brain
Most women have experienced mood shifts with their cycle, and through this experience, accept that their hormones have an impact on their emotional well-being. (R, R, R) Beyond pre-menstrual syndrome and other menstrual mood disorders (R), studies have also found a relationship between sex hormones and psychiatric disorders. (R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R) For example, fluctuating estrogen levels have been associated with anxiety and depression. (R, R)
Progesterone has also been implicated in mood disturbances, especially in postpartum depression. In fact, recently the FDA approved allopregnanolone as treatment for this disorder. The mechanism for its action is presumed to be on progesterone’s interactions with the receptors of the calming neurotransmitter, GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid). (R, R, R, R, R)
There is also some emerging evidence suggesting that shifts in these hormones can modulate the symptoms of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). (R, R, R) In a review article on the connection between gonadal hormones and neurotransmitters in relationship to OCD symptoms, the authors analyzed the interactions between estrogen, progesterone, and oxytocin and the receptors for serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate. The authors used animal studies to determine mechanisms and human clinical trials to examine outcomes.
Although various, complex receptor interactions emerged in the literature, it was concluded that progesterone and estradiol increase serotonin release and signaling. These effects could lead to the improvement of OCD symptoms and other psychiatric conditions that respond to low serotonin. (R)
The interaction between progesterone and estrogen and dopamine and glutamate was too nuanced to determine an overall impact, but there was evidence that they do interact. The authors stated, “As with the estrogen-dopamine relationship, the effects of progesterone on the dopaminergic system are variable with some components being upregulated, while others are inhibited. As such, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the role of this relationship in OCD.”(R) Similar inconsistencies have been found in linking progesterone and estrogen’s connection to glutamate signaling, with some studies showing upregulation, and others downregulation, yet also exhibiting protective neurological properties.
Naturopathic Medicine Approaches to Balance Estrogen and Progesterone Induced Mood Imbalances
Based on the associations between hormonal fluctuations and moods with cycling women, some research has explored using hormones to treat psychiatric imbalances. As noted above, progesterone has been found helpful for postpartum depression. Yet, studies have found conflicting results with the use of estrogen as an adjunct for antidepressant treatment. Furthermore, few human studies exist that go beyond speculation for hormonal treatment of other specific mood disorders. (R, R, R, R, R, R)
This lack of compelling data may be due to individual variations and the various intricate factors that influence hormone production, metabolism, transport, utilization, elimination, and detoxification. (These were explored in part one.) There are many complexities of trying to tweak hormones, with many multi-factorial effects, and all of these aspects are considerations for a physician.
In my consulting practice, I find my clients with hormonal-induced mood disorders do best by first determining the root causes of the hormone imbalance, I do this by assessing all the influencers involved in harmonizing hormones. I also evaluate my clients’ brain functioning patterns through a brain symptom checklist. The results help to determine if neurotransmitter support through various lifestyle adjustments and supplements is indicated. From there, I will personalize an integrated wellness protocol that focuses in on the areas that need optimization. Oftentimes, I find that by selecting the proper brain health recommendations, such as amino acid precursors for neurotransmitters, hormonal symptoms are also relieved.
The Little Histamine-Estrogen “Trick”
There is another little trick I use in my practice to determine if a woman has high levels of estrogen in relationship to progesterone. Since estrogen has been shown to have a link to the neurotransmitter histamine, I will determine if a woman has allergic symptoms, such as sinus congestion, brain fog, and headaches, during their cycle. (R, R). If so, it is often due to higher levels of estrogen. Lowering histamine will indirectly lower estrogen levels and can often ease menstrual discomforts and mood swings. By balancing out the stress response, gut, liver, and immune system, to address estrogen levels many women report these symptoms, along with emotional upset, can often be minimized, or disappear.
Finally, for most clients, I will also tackle the mind-body impacts of hormonal health with essential oils. Specific essential oils (e.g., clary sage, geranium, lavender) have been shown to modulate cortisol and stress levels, which lead to more balanced sex hormones, while enhancing the mood. I have also found mind-body approaches especially helpful to assist with stress and overwhelm, and the resulting hormonal disruption.
Summary and Conclusions
Estrogen and progesterone impact various neurotransmitters in complex ways. This explains why cycling women and those with hormonal imbalances can experience mood disorders.
If one has hormonal-connected psychological symptoms, a naturopathic and/or functional medicine doctor can help address the root cause of the problem to help rebalance the body. This means they will examine all the various lifestyle and other hormonal influencers leading the hormonal balance and personalize a wellness protocol for each individual.
In the next article, I will go into more detail on thyroid hormone, testosterone, and oxytocin and their role on mood.
I hope you find this information helpful.
Please share your thoughts below and don’t forget to sign-up for my two-part video series to learn how essential oils can help calm your brain and support hormonal health below.
Mental Health Resources
*If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and/or are suicidal, please seek professional mental health support:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) — Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor
- Lifeline Crisis Chat — Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention services at www.crisischat.org
Other Helpful Resources
Below are some of the highlights of the many free resources on this website:
- Four Essential Oils Blends for Supporting the Mind-Body and Easing Tension
- VIDEO: How Your Brain and Body Suffer with Too Much Stress & Naturopathic Medicine Tips for Calming the Mind and Relieving Overwhelm
- Video Recap: Essential Oils to Ease the Stress & Anxiety of Back to School
- The Importance of Fun, Music, & Play for Mental Health
- Video Recap: Essential Oils for Brain and Mental Health & Soothing Stress
- 10 Natural Ways to Relieve Stress and Calm the Mind-Body During Trying Times
- A Naturopathic Doctor’s Approach to Thyroid Health Using Essential Oils: Video Recap & Additional Resources
Additional Supportive Techniques & Tools
- The Tapping Solution, A Technique to Lower Cortisol and Reduce Stress- Podcast interview by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald with Nick Ortner.
- Stress management tips and resources
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
According to experts and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no approved standard of care treatment, cure, or preventative for COVID-19. Supportive measures and containment are in full force as a result. Please see the CDC website and your state’s website for more information and updates. They also state when to contact your physician related to symptoms and travel history, exposures. Please read my more detailed article on this subject here.
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.