How Hormone Imbalance Affects Women's Mental Health
Hormones are chemical substances that are responsible for the physiological processes in your body. They are secreted directly into the bloodstream, and transported to different sites where they exert their function(s).
Hormones are essential for healthy living, however, when there is an excess or deficiency, it can lead to hormonal imbalance which can cause a lot of harm.
Hormonal imbalance is a phenomenon that is common in women and is often associated with insomnia, hot flushes, mood fluctuations, and a number of diseases. But does hormonal imbalance also affect women's health? If so, how?
In this article, we'll delve into the important hormones in a woman's body and how they can affect her mental health
Estrogen (E1, E2 and E3) are a group of hormones that play an important role in the sexual and reproductive health of a woman. They are produced primarily in the ovaries, although the adrenal gland and fat cells also produce small amounts.
- Is responsible for the development of the female secondary sexual characteristics like development of the breasts and pubic hair.
- Regulates the menstrual cycle.
- Enhances the growth and maturation of the vagina.
- Stimulates the development of the uterus and prepares it for an incoming baby.
However, the hormone also has a relationship with the brain. It is involved in the regulation of the neurotransmitters; serotonin (the feel good or happy hormone), dopamine and epinephrine. These substances are responsible for mood regulation, and a fluctuation in the level of estrogen, whether below or above the normal level, produces significant effects.
Low levels of estrogen is linked to low levels of serotonin, and causes a number of mental health issues like depression, mood swings, and irritability. On the other hand, overly high levels of estrogen along with low levels of progesterone, called estrogen dominance, leads to depression, anxiety and irritability.
Progesterone is a hormone produced by a woman's ovaries after ovulation. It is almost produced in small amounts by the placenta and adrenal gland.
Progesterone is sometimes called the 'pregnancy hormone' because it plays an essential role in fertility and pregnancy.
However, other important roles of progesterone include:
- Regulation of the menstrual cycle.
- Assisting estrogen in breast development by enhancing the lobuloalveolar and ductal development of the breast tissue.
- Promotion of early sexual differentiation.
- Enhancement of skin elasticity and bone strength
When progesterone levels drop, the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) also reduces. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which is known for producing 'a calming effect'. It suppresses circuits in the brain that cause anxiety.
So, a reduction in the level of progesterone will cause a drop in GABA and lead to anxiety.
Cortisol is the body's stress hormone. It prepares the body for what is known as 'the flight-or-fight' response.
During times of stress, cortisol is released from the adrenal gland and produces what can best described as a 'boost of energy', which enables you to respond to the stressor better. However, an excessive stimulation can occur and lead to even more stress.
Poorly controlled cortisol has been linked to mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and mood swings. However, the mechanism isn't quite clear. Assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Neda Gould, articulates it better; "While the relationship between cortisol and the development of mental health issues isn’t completely clear-cut, it is safe to say that chronic stress can make us vulnerable to the development of psychiatric illnesses".
Indirect Effect of our Hormones on the Mental Health
Hormones lead to changes such as fluctuations in body weight, acne, hair loss and other physical differences that can affect how a woman sees or regards herself.
For example, little stimulation of the thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) causes weight gain. And if a woman is uncomfortable with the additional weight on her body, she is more likely to get depressed or anxious.
Fluctuations in the level of hormones in the body of a woman can have significant effects on her mental health. If you experience any of these symptoms, speak to a doctor on North about your symptoms.