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Hormone Fluctuations & Mood Disorders

Depressed woman sitting with head in hands in a dark bedroom.Women are almost twice as likely as men to experience depression.  Of those women, one in four will experience clinical depression in her lifetime.  These statistics are not surprising when we understand how the female hormones affect brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that ultimately influence mood.  The hormonal and life changes associated with menstruation, the postpartum period and menopause can contribute to or trigger depression, and anxiety.

There is an explanation as to why mood changes occur during different phases of a woman’s life. Spikes and dips of estrogen directly affect Serotonin levels. Serotonin is one of the main neurotransmitters that elevates mood. Dopamine, and Norepinephrine, other common neurotransmitters, are also influenced by estrogen levels and will contribute to a sense of well being when produced at normal amounts.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) has become a prime example of what can happen during a normal cycle’s hormonal fluctuation.  Mood changes occurring 2 weeks prior to menstruation are typically symptoms of PMS. Approximately 75% of all menstruating women experience some symptoms that occur before or during menstruation.  Estrogen imbalance is the contributing factor of PMS.

Postpartum depression (PPD) occurs a few days or even months after childbirth. Roughly 10% of pregnancies result in postpartum depression. Often times it goes undiagnosed. The signs of postpartum depression include: Decreased energy, difficulty sleeping, poor appetite or overeating, trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions, being overly worried about the baby or not having any interest in the baby.

Baby Blues are less intense symptoms than PPD, such as sadness, despair, anxiety, and irritability. Up to 80% of new moms experience these transient symptoms.
Within 48 hours after childbirth, 90-95% of hormones (estrogen, progesterone and thyroid) will drop drastically causing an imbalance in normal hormonal production.

Menopausal associated depression/anxiety can be present for years until hormones balance out again. The menopausal years encompass perimenopause through postmenopause. During menopause the menstrual cycles become irregular due to hormonal fluctuations, and eventually cease due to an overall decrease in production of all female hormones from the ovaries. During this time the typical menopausal symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, depression and anxiety can occur. Those who had PMS symptoms of depression and anxiety are more likely to experience mood changes during the menopausal years if not treated previously.
This arises because the ovaries are waxing and waning in production of hormones, meaning estrogen and progesterone levels are constantly fluctuating until the ovaries are no longer the primary site of hormone production. Levels will eventually level out postmenopausally, but will be lower in comparison to the premenopausal years.
A number of therapies are available to improve mood changes due to hormonal imbalances. One of these includes Neurotransmitter Testing to determine levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and other brain chemicals that influence mood. Once the levels have been determined appropriate recommendations using botanicals and other supplements can be used to create the appropriate balance.

Other Naturopathic Therapies can include botanicals such as Vitex, Cimicifuga, Dandelion Root, B Vitamins, Fish Oils, Flax seeds, and Exercise. Acupuncture and Colorpuncture have been found to improve symptom picture.

PMS, postpartum depression, and menopausal-associated mood changes will improve once hormones begin to stabilize.  It is important to understand in addition to one’s hormone levels, mood may be influenced by genetic history and environment. There can be several factors that play a role in mood. All of these need to be taken into account to balance mood and hormones.

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