Feeling “Hormotional?” How Hormones Can Affect Your Emotions

There’s a brilliant term coined by urban dictionary that combines the topic of hormones and mood, called "hormotional."

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.”

Why Hormones Affect Your Mood

Are you familiar with feelings of overwhelm, underwhelm and anywhere in between where you simply don’t feel like – or act like yourself anymore? Women 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 to be 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 moods.”

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

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

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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 the 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 then further declining at menopause.

Today in the western society, women that suffer from depression during peri/menopause may often receive prescriptions for anti-depressant medications, instead of addressing hormone levels through extensive testing .

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 women may experience 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 20x higher than in the blood. Insomnia, anxiety, and migraines are just a few of the conditions linked to Estrogen Dominance. Just as in 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.

Testosterone
Most of us think of testosterone as simply a sex hormone that plays an important role in puberty, aka, hormone-driven teenagers. 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, the bones strong and our body fat composition in check.

When our testosterone levels dip too low, it can influence our mood 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’.

Dr. Edward Levitan, MD says, “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.”

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.

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. Thyroid hormones also 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.”

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

For example, a thyroid hormone deficiency inhibits the brain’s neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, possibly leading to depression. Thyroid hormone levels may also be deficient during and after pregnancy. I know about that one firsthand!

If you think you may having thyroid issues, seek out a qualified Health Practitioner to do a complete testing for you. There could be medication that may assist in replacing missing thyroid hormones (ie. natural hormone replacement)  which could potentially improve both emotional and physical symptoms.

Insulin & Blood Glucose (Sugar) Levels
Familiar with the term “hangry?” (Hungry + angry) It’s now even scientifically documented!

Researchers have noticed a correlation between aggressive, emotional outbursts during PMS and womens’ 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.

This is why it’s so important to pay careful attention to not only what you eat (below), but when you eat, as this can be 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 should include a serving of high-quality lean protein + good fats + low-glycemic fruits or fibrous veggies, and be mindful of portions.

Stages of Life Affect Your Mood

Not only is it specific hormones that can cause us to have erratic moods, it’s a combination of hormonal imbalances when you go into specific stages of life: puberty, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, peri-menopause, menopause & post-menopause. Which pretty much sees most of us through from ages 12 to 60. This effectively spans over half of a woman’s life.

To share a personal story, I was caught off-guard with raging hormotions during the 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– depression, panic attacks, and downright scary at times, for both me and my husband. (Sweet man stuck it out though) 🙂

Interesting statistic reported by Dr. Katharina Dalton, a pioneer in PMS treatment: over 80% of the women who have once suffered from post-partum depression subsequently develop PMS. Can’t we ever catch a break?

Even more interesting, was when I read that Dr. Phyllis Bronson, conducted studies of mood disorders in women at midlife. From personal interviews, Dr. Bronson concurred that what most women fear as they approach menopause – is not hot flashes, night sweats, breast cancer or heart disease – it is the fear of losing their minds!

 

Other Reasons Why Your Mood Sucks

It’s important to also note that our mood or demeanor can also be affected in non-hormonal ways too. Factors to consider are:

  • Genetics – does a parent or sibling suffer from anxiety or depression?

  • Your environment – what is your housing situation, relationship with partner/children, exposure to toxins?
     
  • Stress levels – do you have a demanding job, stressful home environment, poor health of a family one?
     
  • Women’s self-esteem or self-worth: women tend to view themselves more negatively than men = vulnerability factor for many mental health problems

So what’s a gal supposed to do with her “hormotional” self?

 

How to Curb Your Hormotions & Improve Your Mood

First, it may be prudent to speak to a qualified, knowledgeable Health Practitioner who specializes in hormones and conduct a proper testing of hormones & neurotransmitters for you. Often the testing available through your MD is not going to give you the full picture – so how can your treatment truly be defined and customized for you?

Hormone & Neurotransmitter Testing
Once you’ve done the proper testing, there are many natural options available to help re-balance hormones, including Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy. Again, be sure to seek out a professional who is experienced in administering BHRT or other supplementation.

When these important bio-chemicals are in balance, it can set the stage for restoring your health back to an optimal, more youthful, less hormotional place! #turndownthecrazy

Eat More Real Food, Eat More Real Fat
You don’t need a nutritionist telling you that packaged, processed foods with little to no nutritive value harm us in more ways than just expanding our waistlines – that’s just common knowledge. But what may not be widely known is that they can seriously mess up our hormones and cause excessive irritability and crankiness!

Ditch the crap. Say no to junk! Banish the sugar and un-pronounceable ingredients.

Here are the best combinations of whole foods that help re-balance hormones, stabilize our mood, and keep those extra pounds from topping off the muffin. Bonus.

 

Hormone Balancing Food Combos = Mood Food

Here are some suggestions for energizing, hormone-balancing, inflammation-quenching superfood combos that can be included in your “good mood food” diet:

1) Kale/leafy greens + ghee. 
Why? Always pair your greens with a bit of “good fat” to help your body assimilate the nutrients. Kale, like broccoli, is a cruciferous veggie that contains indole-3-carbinol (I-3-C) and sulforaphane – two key phytonutrients noted for their detoxifying and “bad estrogen”-flushing abilities.

2) Cacao powder + coconut oil. 
Why? Raw, unprocessed cacao is full of magnesium and coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid known to increase metabolism and basal body temperature, which is good for those with low thyroid, which we know can cause fatigue and depression.

Suggested serving: make your own chocolates! Raw Chocolate Macaroons

3) Salmon + hemp seeds. 
Why? Omega 3’s and plenty of them! Read more below.

4) Mushrooms (exposed to UV light) + olive oil + quinoa. 
Why? Vitamin D, essential fatty acids & manganese! 

Vitamin D is another key part of “mood maintenance” because it helps regulate the brain’s neurotransmitters (serotonin, melatonin and dopamine) which, as I’ve mentioned, have a profound impact on mood.

Studies have found the likelihood of having depression is significantly higher in people with a deficiency in Vitamin D compared to those who have normal levels. It is hard to get enough D3 (the active form) through food sources, so supplementation may be necessary, especially in the darker winter months.

Suggested serving: Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin so it’s important to supplement it in liquid D3 form (that is suspended in a fat source) or lightly cook your mushrooms in a little good fat like extra virgin olive oil, on low heat, being careful not to burn. Serve on a bed of cooked quinoa (cooked in homemade bone broth would be a bonus!) – rich in protein, fibre and manganese – important in energy product and hormone balance.

Hormone Balancing, Mood Stabilizing Supplements

Targeted supplementation with key nutrients like B-vitamins, Vitamin D, Magnesium and Fish oil may be necessary. Ensure you speak to a qualified Health Practitioner or Holistic Pharmacist before beginning supplementation. Not all “natural” or herbal products are necessary or even safe.

However, the best way to obtain any type of nutrient is from your food. But if your diet isn’t up to par quite yet, or you have gut issues that may be affecting nutrient absorption, then high-quality supplements are widely available.

Other Natural Ways to Lift Your Mood

Just a few other ways to squeeze some mood lifters into your day…

  • Mindfulness Based Practices = Yoga &/or Meditative practices &/or breathing exercises
  • Exercise regularly, and break a sweat often! Bedroom gymnastics perhaps? (Just a suggestion.)
  • Daily self-care rituals
  • Be positive and surround yourself with positive people.
  • Connect with nature. Get off your i-device and go outside!
  • Play…with your kids, your dog, your spouse, in the leaves, at the gym, in the park, in a toy store, at the dollar store, in a shoe store. Just play.
  • Get more sleep. Nothing makes you crankier, hangrier, or more off your game than poor sleep.
  • Organize something…your hall closet, your kitchen cabinets, your fridge, your junk drawer or your home office (I’m talking to myself here).
  • Have an Epsom salt bath with your favourite essential oil(s), light some candles and play some quiet music. Breathe deeply and take in the experience. Just 20 minutes that’s all yours.
  • Speaking of music, listen to some. Something light and upbeat. Or dark & raunchy – whatever lifts you up!

So if you’ve noticed that you’re feeling especially “hormotional” these days, try the above suggestions and be sure to seek out a network of friends & family who can help you with the emotional support side of things.

There’s no need to surrender to thinking that your destiny is to become just another cranky old bat living out her life. I remember my Doctor saying to me, “what you’re feeling is just a normal part of aging”, and that I would need to just “learn how to live with it”, and then I was offered a prescription for an anti-depressant. This is NOT the type of support we need!

If you’ve been feeling a little more hormotional lately and are looking for guidance? Get my latest hormone talk – both written & audio versions!

Written By:  Krista Goncalves
Krista is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist (CHN), Registered Nutritional Counsellor (RNC) & Women’s Health Expert. She runs women’s health programs online and in her hometown of Kelowna, BC. She also blogs daily about current topics in Women’s Nutrition Health & Hormones at
MakingLemonade.ca – empow(her) your health!
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