In previous episodes and blogs we’ve gone through what each of our hormones are (link), but I did this in a very biomedical model type way – in that I kinda of just said “this does this”.
But in this episode I want to explore what types of influence our hormones have on our mental wellbeing.
Our mental wellbeing is a system that’s definitely getting some more discussion around it, with meditation, yoga, consciousness, awareness, the power of thoughts and so much more seeping into our every day dialogue and what we see on the gram. I feel, to be honest, talking about our mindset, emotions and mental wellbeing is becoming more “trending” than the physical, because for so long, it was soooo much just about our physical wellbeing and body, rather than what’s going on upstairs that’s enabling or inhibiting the physical body.
A lot of us either blame our / women’s hormones for our actions. And we take this submissive position and just “accept” that’s the way we “are”. We essentially outsource our emotions and mindbeing (mind+wellbeing) to that of our hormones, but without actually considering that maybe our mood swings, depressive dips, anxiety and mental fatigue… actually is because of our hormones, and that maybe something’s out of whack?
I feel the majority of us, feel like we’re going crazy or we go through periods of depression, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and don’t put two and two together, that hey, maybe its not actually “you” and maybe you’re hormones are influencing you much more than you think.
So rather than just blaming and playing societies bitch in adhering to the “norm” lets step outside and have a look at what and why our hormones could be contributing to our mindbeing.
As an opening note, there are A LOT of factors that influence our brain chemistry and mood. Diet, movement, sleep, stress, inflammation, relationships, behaviour, mindset, toxins, travel, life changes etc. Our hormones are just one factor that contribute and influence our brain state, but I feel they pull a hefty factor, and when our diet, movement, sleep and stress aren’t optimal – that throws our hormones off balance, which in turn, altogether and separately influence our mood and thought processes and feels.
So like everything, there’s not just one magic silver bullet to fix your mood. Everything plays a part, so optimising your sleep, eats, stress management and movement, as the core building blocks, then we can tap into our hormones once they’ve got the additional support from these pillars down packed.
The key hormones we’re going to be exploring today in regards to their impact on mood are;
our sex hormones - testosterone – our main androgen and estrogen – estradiol E and our thyroid hormones
All of our hormones work optimally when they’re in homeostasis (balance), and naturally fluctuate throughout our days. It’s when they get thrown too far either way that we can experience depressive states, mood imbalances, anxiety, decreased cognition and memory and motivation. (reference links).
Within our brain, there is an abundance of hormone receptors. And we can think of our hormones being either bound to SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) a protein that packs up our hormones and pops them in his backpack and they’re unavailable for use. Or they’re free floating around our blood stream, being sexy single hormones binding to receptors and working their magic.
So within our brain there’s heaps of hormone receptors existing within key areas that are part of our 4 main neurotransmitter pathways – Glutamate, GABA, Serotonin and Dopamine.
Glutamate is our main excitatory and stimulating neurotransmitter.
GABA is our main calming and inhibitory neurotransmitter
Serotonin is involved in regulating mood, appetite, memory and emotion
Dopamine is involved in reward, pleasure, attention, motivation and learning
All of these 4 key NT pathways play a role and contribute to our biological mood, and the fact that we have hormone receptors within these pathways connects further how our hormones interplay with and contributes to our emotional mindbeing.
It’s interesting how throughout the evidence, acute exposure to our hormones is BENEFICIAL, which is what is naturally meant to occur across the menstrual cycle, it’s only when long term exposure (due to the pill, steroids, xenoestrogens and an inability to detoxify our hormones) that the negative cascades on our mental health occur.
Because across the board, E, P and T are beneficial to our mindbeing. It’s only when they’re out of whack that we experience mood imbalances. And because these are commonplace, we accept them as “the way it is”.
For women, with PMS that’s because your hormones are unbalanced, you being a moody emotional bitch isn’t “healthy and normal”. So don’t think that’s just “how it is” because you can take action to turn down the heat on them pre-menstrual feels.
For men, if your mood and libido are mellow at best, and you’re a millennial don’t immediately accept you’re having a period in time, look at your hormones and lifestyle and take action to have roaring healthy hormones.
Estradiol or E2 is our strongest estrogen and is what’s circulating in our blood stream.
Estrogen is awesome, it builds and preserves our bones, fortifies collagen in our skin, regulates cholesterol, increases BDNF (brain derives neurotrophic factor 1), improves our cognition and mood, and increases serotonin uptake in our brains.
Estrogen is actually naturally an anti-depressant.
It naturally peaks during week 2 & 4 of a regular menstrual cycle, and ladies, you may notice during these times that you’re thinking clearer, your moods naturally pepped and you have more energy. (if estrogens in balance).
And we can see this play out on another level – when women come off the pill, post-preganancy and menopause – because there’s all of a sudden a drop in estrogen, they experience states of depression and weird emotional rollercoasters.
So low estrogen’s associated with depressive states and mood imbalances.
So what happens when we have too much estradiol in our bodies?
An excess of estrogen decrease GABA, which makes sense as estrogen is involved in concentration and learning. Yet, when we lean too far the other way, and consistently decrease GABA pathways because of excess estrogen, we can become anxious, wired, over-think, be indecisive.
What causes excess estrogen?
- the pill
- slow phase 2 liver detoxification
- poor diet
- lack of movement
- exposure to excess plastics and toxins
Unline estrogen, P increases GABA pathways and is more sedative than stimulating. For girlies, this makes sense around our cycle, as we tend to feel lazy during week 3 (our period is week 1).
Progesterone decreases PMS and mood imbalances, and in a study, we see progesterone increase post SSRI treatment – showing that progesterone is involved in the production and regulation of serotonin.
When we experience mood imbalances as women, it’s usually that PMS that is happening pre-bleed, when both P & E are flat.
This also occurs when our parents hit menopause, and when girls come off the pill - hormones are flatlining, and so is your mindbeing. So be mindful of your mum and the women in your life because they’re mood and state might not even be in their control.
Also, ladies, who are on the pill – know the pill tricks your body into thinking you’re pregnant. That’s why your hairs thicker, nails grow faster, your appetite is larger, and with this comes an influx of hormones and thus, greater spikes and dips, so you experience a greater range of emotions. When we come off the pill, all this stops. We flatline. Just like in PPD (post partum depression).
So its important, that when choosing to come off the pill / IN GENERAL TO HELP BALANCE YOUR ENDOCRINE (HORMONE) SYSTEM we utilise:
Herbs such as White Peony, Dong Quai and Black Cohosh, there’s also Vitex (Chaste tree) to regulate our cycle.
(as well as the epic list just further down)
Same with E & P, an imbalance of T is associated with depression. Both when there’s an increase in exogenous testosterone, boosting levels, via SARMS and steroids, and when there’s a decrease in testosterone via detoxification inadequacies / toxin exposure and OTT aromatisation.
Aromasiation is the natural bodily process in which the body synthesises estrogen (E2) from testosterone. And like everything, when this process becomes too overactive, that testosterone is more rapidly converted intro estrogens, and this can present itself in more estrogen dominant body types in males (hips, man boobs, bigger thighs etc), and can impact mood and emotions.
What might cause low testosterone in boys?
- xenoestrogens, such as plastics (don’t heat your food in plastics)
- anabolic steroids
- chronic poor sleep
- low thyroid
- shit diet – overly processed
- heavy metals
- alcohol consumption (this is a MAJOR driver of aromatisation).
By working on these factors and the list above to balance our hormones, we’ll be decreasing SHBG and freeing up more testosterone, enabling its functions.
Having an underachieve thyroid (hypothyroidism) is linked to depression, and also interacts with our sex hormones.
Low thyroid is associated with lower testosterone and higher E2. And vice versa, with high levels of E2 decreasing TBG (thyroid binding globulin) making our thyroid less active.
With our thyroid determining the rate at which we convert and utilise our nutrients into cellular energy, our mood and behaviour can be impacted when under (and over) active.
So optimising our thyroid function via adequate nutrition and movement, stress and sleep habits, along with adequate iodine and selenium will see an increase in LH (luteinising hormone) which in turn, makes our sex hormones.
So what can we do to help restore hormone homeostasis and some good mind feels:
Consume lots of our leafy green and cruciferous veggies to support our liver and phase 2 detoxification – 7-10 handfuls of greens a day.
Good healthy fats rich in omega 3’s (walnuts, flax, chia, fatty fish)
Vitamin C rich foods to aid in iron absorption and utilisation.
Fibre helps to detoxify and remove excess hormones.
Zinc rich foods like pumpkin seeds and tahini.
Along with consuming adequate protein for amino acids to be able to synthesise our neurotransmitters
Magnesium & B vitamins as a stress buffer and for macronutrient utilisation
Adaptogens to help restore homeostasis
And supporting and loving our microbiome, so we’re able to utilise these nutrients and make enough serotonin.
Get good optimal sleep
So if you resonate with any of the symptoms and states we discuss, you can opt to get your hormones tested, either by blood or saliva testing, and then implement the list above and if you need any help, feel free to email or DM me @themillennialnutritionist.
one love hormone home slices,
Barth, C, Villiringer, A & Sacher, J 2015, ‘Sex hormones affect neurotransmitters and shape the adult female brain during hormonal transition periods’, Front Neurosc, vol. 9, no. 37, doi: 10.3389/fnins.2015.00037
Johnson, JM, Nachtigall, LB & Stern TA 2013, ‘The effect of testosterone levels on mood in men: a review.’, Psychosomatics, vol. 54, no. 6, pp. 509-514, doi: 10.1016/j.psym.2013.06.018.
O’Connor, DB, Archer, J & Frederick CW 2004, ‘Effects of Testosterone on Mood, Aggression, and Sexual Behavior in Young Men: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Cross-Over Study’, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, vol. 89, no.6, pp. 2837–2845, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2003-031354
Saran et al. 2016, ‘Effect of hypothyroidism on female reproductive hormones’, Indian j Endocrinol Metab, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 108-113, doi: 10.4103/2230-8210.172245
Roselli, C.E, Liu, M & Hum P.D 2009, ‘Brain Aromatization: Classical Roles and New Perspectives’, Semin Reprod Med, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 207-217, doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1216274