Are You Hormotional? By Krista Goncalves

As I was pondering this topic and even thinking that I had made up a clever new term: HORMOTIONAL, it turns out it’s actually a thing! Ha!

From the Urban Dictionary:

Adjective – Feeling strong emotions brought on by the hormonal fluctuations caused by a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Noun – Hormotion: An emotion felt with particular intensity during the hormonal fluctuations caused by a woman’s menstrual cycle.

As in…”I’m sorry honey, I didn’t mean to bite your f@$king head off, I’m just feeling a little hormotional today.”

OR, “No wait, I did mean to tear you a new one, because I’m feeling a little hormotional today.”

Why Hormones Affect Our Mood

The feeling of overwhelm, underwhelm and anywhere in between where you simply don’t feel like – or act like yourself anymore. Any woman over the age of 35 is likely well-acquainted with not being able to get a handle on her “hormotions” because a few key hormones have started to play tricks with her body as well as her mind.

Women’s International writes: “Just mention those three little letters—PMS—and you’re bound to get a reaction. Women nod in sympathy; men cringe at the thought. Everyone seems to know someone whose moods go through a ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ type of transformation during that time of the month.

But the emphasis on PMS and its effects on a woman’s mood seems blown out of proportion, especially in light of the fact that a woman’s life is a continuum of hormonal upheavals that affect her moods. From puberty through post-menopause, women experience a continuous cycle of hormonal fluctuations that affect brain chemistry and therefore, their mood.”

This nifty little fact of life may partially explain why, women are 40 % more likely than men to develop mental health conditions like depression and anxiety disorders. And this is a world-wide cross-cultural phenomenon too ladies!!

In fact, this biochemical connection is so undeniable that we need to look beyond the tongue-in-cheek jokes about PMS and seek to gain a better understanding of how hormones affect a woman’s mental health and emotional well-being.

Does reading this article cause you to feel hormotional? Well, I don’t want to be responsible for that, so here’s the audio version!

Key Hormone Players Affecting Mood

Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone, Thyroid & Insulin.

Estrogen

Jayashri Kulkarni, Professor of Psychiatry at Monash University says, “Estrogen appears to be a “protective” agent in the brain. This may in part explain why some women feel worse in terms of their mental state in the low-estrogen phase of their monthly cycle. Some women even feel a crushing state of depression during this time known as PMDD (Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder). 

Estrogen also appears to exert influence on dopamine and serotonin normally considered the “feel good” neurotransmitters, but are also the key brain chemicals associated with the development of depression and psychosis.”

A number of research studies have shown an association between decreased levels of estrogen and panic attacks. Many women may develop symptoms of depression, anxiety, and extreme mood swings as estrogen levels begin to fluctuate during peri-menopausal years and then further declining at menopause.

It’s frustrating when so many women that suffer from depression during peri-menopause have been put on anti-depressant medications instead of addressing their unique hormone levels through testing and then using more natural bio-identical hormones as needed.

Progesterone

Beyond preparation for pregnancy, progesterone has many notable influences throughout the body, many of which can be attributed to its ability to oppose the action of estrogen. Multiple physical and psychological problems during mid-life are often caused by an imbalance between progesterone and estrogen, referred to as Estrogen Dominance.

The brain is also highly responsive to progesterone. In fact, levels of progesterone in the brain have been shown to be 20 times higher than in the blood. Insomnia, anxiety, and migraines are just a few of the conditions linked to Estrogen Dominance. Just like elsewhere in the body, progesterone counterbalances the effects of estrogen in the brain. Estrogen has an excitatory effect on the brain, whereas progesterone’s effect is quite calming.

According to Dr. Phyllis Bronson, a clinician and biochemist, supplementing with natural (bio-identical) Progesterone has been shown to be an effective treatment for anxiety in peri-menopausal women. Most of the women treated reported significant improvements in emotional health.

Warning: Do not “experiment” with BHRT on your own! Work with a qualified health professional experienced in prescription of bio-identicals.

Testosterone

Most of us think of testosterone as simply a sex hormone that plays an important role in puberty, aka, hormonal-crazed teenagers! And in men, it pumps up their libido, produces Olympic swimming sperm, keeps their muscles rippling, and bodies strong & virile. But testosterone isn’t exclusively a male hormone!

Women produce small amounts of it and it’s just as important to our delicate hormonal symphony as well, keeping our muscles lean and tight, our bones strong and our body fat composition in check. Not to mention our libidos from becoming non-existent! Sigh.

It can influence our mood when levels dip too low, often referred to as ‘low T’. While this certainly affects women (I should know, I had virtually none at one point!), it is very prevalent in middle aged men – sometimes called andropause or ‘male menopause’.

Cells in the brain have testosterone receptors that significantly affect mental health. Men with low testosterone can experience fatigue and commonly have mood swings. It’s also one of the major causes of depression.
— Dr. Edward Levitan, MD

Thyroid

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your neck in either side of your Adam's Apple. It produces several different hormones that have a profound effect on the body and affect every cell in one way or another. And, the effects on mood are far-reaching.

The primary thyroid hormones are Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3), which respond to pituitary Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) as part of the body’s complex feedback system. These thyroid hormones affect blood glucose levels and the release of stress hormones (like cortisol), which obviously affects mood as well.

In her best-selling book "The Hormone Cure", Dr. Sara Gottfried writes, “Sluggish thyroid and metabolism are a setup for poor mood – even perhaps, the slow downward spiral toward cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.”

So you see, when the thyroid is not functioning optimally (i.e. levels are either too high or too low), it can really throw your body and mind out of whack!

A thyroid hormone deficiency inhibits brain neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, possibly leading to depression. Thyroid hormone levels may also be deficient during and after pregnancy. (I know about that firsthand!)

The Mayo Clinic states that:
If you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), you may experience:

  • Unusual nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you have an under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism), you may experience:

  • Mild to severe fatigue
  • Depression

And these are only just the effects on your mental and emotional state. The other symptoms of thyroid dysfunction affecting all other body systems are plentiful and wide-ranging! Check out my personal health story of how I tackled my long-standing hypothyroidism.

Insulin & Blood Glucose (Sugar) Levels

I’m sure you’re familiar with the term “hangry”…hungry + angry. It’s even scientifically documented! 

Researchers have noticed a correlation between aggressive emotional outbursts during PMS and women’s blood sugar levels. When asked about the time of day or circumstances immediately preceding such outbursts, patients frequently reported that they occurred late morning after missing breakfast or while preparing for the evening meal, especially if that was occurring later than usual. Incidentally, many patients also reported confusion or forgetfulness during the time surrounding these outbursts.

Like I said, hangry is a real emotion!

This is why it’s so important to pay careful attention to not only what you eat, but also WHEN you eat it, as this is important to your emotional health. Be sure to keep your blood sugar nice and steady by eating a well-balanced meal or snack every 3-4 hours, which includes a serving of high-quality lean protein + good fats + low-glycemic fruits or fibrous veggies. And be mindful of the portions.

For more on the effects of insulin, read “Is Your Blood Sugar Taking Your Hormones for a Ride?”

Stages of Life Affect Mood

It's not just specific hormones that can cause erratic moods; it’s a combination of hormonal imbalances as you would see when you go into specific stages of life: puberty, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, peri-menopause, menopause, and post-menopause. And this means from the age of 12 to 60, spanning over half of a woman’s life!

I was especially caught off-guard with raging hormotions during my post-partum phase. And I’m not just talking about the “baby blues”. This was a “I don’t even recognize myself anymore because I grew horns” stage that I went through after both my kids were born. 

Post-partum depression and psychosis are thought to be caused by the sudden and dramatic drop in pregnancy hormones shortly after giving birth. I was hospitalized just 8 days after my first child was born. Doctors first thought I was having a stroke! After weeks of testing, I was given the diagnosis of post-partum depression & generalized anxiety.

It was a very frustrating time in my life – depressing, full of panic attacks, and downright scary at times for both me and my husband. Sweet man stuck it out though 🙂

Dr. Phyllis Bronson conducted studies on mood disorders in women at midlife and concurred that what most women fear most as they approach menopause is not hot flashes, night sweats, breast cancer or heart disease! They fear losing their mind!

Other Reasons Why Our Mood Sucks

Our mood or demeanor can be affected in non-hormonal ways:

  • Genetics – does a parent or sibling suffer from anxiety or depression?
  • Environment – what is our housing situation, relationship with partner/children, exposure to toxins?
  • Stress levels – do we have poor health, a demanding job, a stressful home environment?
  • Women’s self-esteem or self-worth: women tend to view themselves more negatively than men = vulnerability factor for many mental health problems

This post is Part 1 of the guest post by Krista Goncalves on hormone and emotions management. You can read Part 2 here.

FOUND THIS INTERESTING?

A former marine biologist, Krista is now a Certified Holistic Nutritionist (CHN) and Registered Nutritional Counselor (RNC) – a qualified practitioner who provides guidance for building and maintaining nutritional well-being.

Krista likes to say that she's having a culinary love affair with food and is captivated by how it fuels, nourishes and energizes us. She believes your food should work for you, not against you. 

The mantra of “what you put in, is what you'll get out” supports her belief that real food, along with some high-quality supplements, can help heal us from many health conditions, or even prevent us from having certain ones in the first place - like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

With over 20 years of diverse professional teaching experience and a deep passion for promoting balanced, healthy living, she feels her contribution to the rapidly expanding and ever-evolving field of "functional health" is not only important, but incredibly rewarding.

Krista is also a women's health writer and you'll find her blogging regularly on MakingLemonade.ca ~ Empow(her)ed Health & Nutrition!

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This article originally appeared on Krista Goncalves' blog.