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Hormones and Mental Health

Hormones and Mental Health
How do our hormones impact on our mood?

The factors which contribute to anxiety and depression are very complex and can be different for everyone. They are countless and can include anything from genetics, physical health, and lifestyle, to life experiences, personality and emotional resilience. Understanding what is influencing our emotional state is very difficult, but can assist us in seeking the right treatments and support, and to figure out the best way for us to cope with anxiety and depression. An often overlooked factor is the influence of hormones on our emotional health.

A hormone is a substance which is transported through the body acting as a ‘chemical messenger’, used to regulate and control bodily processes, including metabolism, hunger, mood, the fight-or-flight response, reproduction, and stress. There are a many different hormones performing different functions within the body.  

A ‘hormone imbalance’ describes a state when hormones are not present in the amount needed to maintain regular functioning of the body. The body is accustomed to certain hormone levels, so any change in these may have a potentially negative impact on both physical and mental health. Hormone imbalances affect many people in the form of common disorders. Symptoms which may be experienced include anxiety, tiredness, irritability, fluctuations in weight, problems with sleep, changes to appetite, or changes to sex drive. These all depend on the individual circumstances. For example, an overactive thyroid and too much cortisol can contribute to increased stress and anxiety. A lack of serotonin, for example, may also influence anxiety and depression, which is why drugs commonly prescribed as treatments for anxiety and depression aim to improve the flow of serotonin.

Knowing your body and understanding why certain changes are occurring can be very helpful in coping with mood changes. As a common example, for women experiencing emotional and behavioural symptoms such as increased anxiety, depressed mood and irritability in the days leading up to their period, it is a comfort to know that these may just be symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome caused by their hormonal cycle. In fact, women are often more likely to be affected by hormone imbalances due to experiencing menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause. Other factors that can affect hormone levels include stress, nutrition, puberty, and thyroid health issues.

Additionally, there are certain lifestyle factors to be taken into account for maintaining a healthy balance of hormones. One of the most important is limiting exposure to chemicals. When our bodies are faced with manufactured chemicals this can have a negative impact on our hormone levels. It is important that we limit the amount of chemicals in the products we use and the things we put in our bodies.

Cleaning products, for example, often contain toxic chemicals that are harmful to our bodies. Consider using organic products and replacing these with natural cleaners such as lemon, bicarb soda, and vinegar. Skincare products such as moisturisers, body wash, and cosmetics can also expose us to synthetic chemicals. Try to make sure ingredients in these products are natural. Studies also suggest that plastics containing BPA can also be of concern to our health and impact our hormones.

We should also look to our diet and try to cut out some foods that have been altered from its natural form, such as by the addition of artificial flavouring and preservatives. A natural treatment for hormone imbalance is an anti-inflammatory diet containing enough omega-3s. Other factors to consider are ensuring you get a sufficient amount of quality sleep and exercise.

Overall, when our hormones are out of balance they can have a great impact on our overall health. It is worth considering if this may be influencing your emotional health, and whether there are changes you can make to improve this. If you are concerned about significant changes in your mood then it is important to speak to your doctor about this. It can sometimes be hard to speak openly about these issues, so it is a good idea to make sure that your GP or specialist doctor is someone you feel comfortable with. If you raise your concerns with your doctor, they may suggest that you get your hormone levels tested. Knowledge of this can help your doctor to advise you further on how you can address your symptoms. For further information about how to keep a healthy hormone balance, and specifically the kinds of foods to include in your diet, have a look at the resources below.

Written by Mel, ADAVIC Volunteer

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