Hormonal imbalances may be linked to depression or other mental health conditions, but there are several strategies to help you cope.
Mental health and hormones can sometimes go hand in hand. Balanced hormone levels can help us stay energized and maintain an even mood. But when our hormones are out of balance, our outlook can shift and create feelings of sadness, anxiety, and even depression.
So, what are hormones, and what role do they play in how we feel?
Hormones are chemical messengers produced by your endocrine glands. They are released through the bloodstream where they’re transported throughout the body until they reach their target organ.
These hormones are used to regulate different organs and oversee significant functions. But if hormone levels become unbalanced or irregular, you may start to feel ”off.“ You may notice a change in your mood, and you might begin to experience symptoms of depression.
Understanding how hormones impact your mental health and cause conditions, such as depression, can help you learn ways to cope with and overcome symptoms.
Hormone levels fluctuate throughout your life, particularly during formative stages like puberty or menopause. Your endocrine glands are responsible for creating, storing, and releasing hormones throughout your body to ensure everything stays balanced.
These glands also work to maintain your body’s hormone levels. If something happens to alter or affect your endocrine glands, they can be thrown out of sync and wreak havoc on your hormone levels.
Because several hormones are in charge of regulating mood, this hormonal dysfunction can lead to changes in your emotional or mental health, as well as possibly heighten existing conditions.
A hormonal imbalance can impact or cause a variety of mental health conditions, including:
- bipolar disorder
- chronic stress
- irritability or mood swings
- insomnia or other sleep issues
- memory problems
Hundreds of hormones course through our bodies, but only specific ones are tied to our mood. When they become imbalanced, these hormones can cause signs and symptoms of depression.
Some of the hormones linked to depression include:
- Estrogen: helps produce the mood-regulating neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin
- Progesterone: promotes calm and relaxation, but can cause depression, anxiety, and irritability when not at the right levels
- Testosterone: found in higher levels in men (but women still produce it), and regulates muscle and bone health, as well as sex drive; low levels share many common signs of depression
- Thyroid: regulates metabolism, energy levels, and other necessary bodily functions; both hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
have been linkedto depression
- Cortisol: helps manage stress and anxiety, and is often tied to changes in weight
- Insulin: keeps blood sugar levels in check
- DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone): reduces brain inflammation to help regulate stress and depression
Men and women can experience changes in hormone levels, but they may be affected differently. This is largely due to specific reproductive hormones — estrogen and progesterone — that regularly fluctuate during a person’s menstrual cycle.
There are many possible causes behind hormone dysfunction, including medical conditions and lifestyle choices. The endocrine glands may not function properly when these factors are in play. This can create a change in hormone production and throw your body’s hormone levels off-kilter.
- hormone disorders
- certain genetic conditions
- hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Addison’s disease
- congenital adrenal hyperplasia
- hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
- tumors or cysts
- certain cancers
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Prader-Willi syndrome
Hormonal imbalance may also be caused by:
- poor diet
- certain medications, including birth control
- nutritional deficiencies
- hormone therapy
- chemotherapy or radiation treatment
- eating disorders
- menopause, perimenopause, and postmenopause
Hormonal changes can also be triggered by exposure to toxins or chemicals that can alter hormone production.
There are a variety of physical and emotional symptoms tied to hormonal imbalances.
Physical symptoms of hormonal dysfunction for men and women include:
- muscle aches or weakness
- weight changes
- irregular heart rate
- frequent urination
- blurred vision
- increased sweating
- sensitivity to hot or cold
- dry skin
Emotional symptoms you may experience include:
- stress or anxiety
- changes in mood
- trouble sleeping
- brain fog or memory issues
- trouble concentrating
- reduced sex drive
Women, in particular, may also experience:
- irregular, heavy, or missed periods
- hair loss
- abnormal hair growth
- vaginal dryness
- headaches or migraines
- night sweats
- hot flashes
A hormone imbalance may also make depression or anxiety worse for people already living with these conditions.
Depression can sometimes feel impossible to deal with, but there are many ways to manage and even treat symptoms.
There are several common medical treatments to combat hormone-based depressive symptoms, such as:
- hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- hormone regulating medications
- birth control, including the pill, patch, shot, ring, or intrauterine device (IUD)
- vaginal estrogen
- anti-androgen medications
- PCOS medications, like letrozole (Femara) or clomiphene (Clomid)
- hypothyroid medications, like levothyroxine
- hyperthyroid medications, like methimazole
- diabetes medications, like metformin
Another strategy is to consider making changes to your lifestyle or habits, including:
- Eating a well-balanced diet. A nutritious and balanced diet free of tons of sugary or processed foods can help ease depressive symptoms.
- Regularly exercising. Physical activity is critical for overall health and wellness. A 2019 study shows that it’s particularly beneficial for those with depression. Exercise can also help raise endorphin levels, the tiny neurochemicals that help boost your mood.
- Managing stress. Consider making time for things you love, practicing yoga, meditating, or other activities that help you create calm and ease stress.
- Knowing your triggers. Identify what factors may cause certain symptoms like hot flashes or chronic headaches. Consider whether specific foods, scents, or even environments trigger them so you can avoid or prepare.
- Considering supplements. Natural treatments, like ginseng, red clover, and evening primrose, are known to soothe some symptoms associated with hormonal irregularities. However, the science is mixed on their effectiveness, so it’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before adding any supplements to your routine.
Hormones help regulate vital organs and bodily functions needed for survival. But if hormone production is disrupted, and there’s too much or too little of certain hormones, your health can be affected.
Hormonal imbalances are often linked to mental health conditions, particularly depression.
If you’re experiencing signs of depression and think it may be tied to hormonal dysfunction, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional. They can help you uncover the cause behind your depression (whether hormonal or otherwise) and provide a diagnosis.
They can also work with you to navigate treatment options and set up a plan tailored to your needs. This may include medical treatments or lifestyle changes to cope with your depression.