Hormonal Imbalances

Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the brain, Amen Clinics uses brain imaging technology to identify patterns associated with neurohormonal imbalances.

What are Hormonal Imbalances?

Hormones are chemical messengers produced in the body that control and regulate the activity of certain cells or organs. Neurohormones have an important impact on the brain. The human body produces hundreds of hormones, but the following four of them have a very direct influence on brain health/mental health: (1) Thyroid (energy regulation), (2) Estrogen (mood modulator), (3) Progesterone (nature’s anti-anxiety hormone) and (4) Testosterone (mood, motivation, sexuality, strength), DHEA and Cortisol (managing stress), and Insulin (manages blood sugar).

Neurohormones and the Brain

Communication between the brain and hormones goes both ways. The brain sends out signals that instruct your body’s glands to produce and release hormones, and hormones from within the body send messages back to the brain that influence its activity.

What Are The Core Symptoms?

When hormones are healthy, you tend to feel vibrant and energetic. When the hormones that affect your brain neurohormones are off, you are off. You may experience symptoms that change the way you think, feel, and act in negative ways. It also makes you more vulnerable to conditions like anxietydepression, and even psychosis. If nobody checks your hormone levels, you will never know the root cause of your issues. And if your hormones are the problem, no amount of psychiatric medications will get you right.

What Causes Hormonal Imbalances?

There are many potential causes of hormonal imbalances in both men and women. The most common causes are imbalances due to diet, life stressors, environment, age, or lifestyle. Women are more likely to experience imbalances in estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid. In men, low testosterone levels are common. Both women and men can have imbalances in other neurohormones, such as insulin (balances blood sugar), cortisol (helps to manage stress and anxiety), and DHEA (fights stress and depression; decreases brain inflammation).

Consequences of untreated hormone imbalances:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep issues
  • Memory problems
  • Psychosis
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Diabesity (Diabetes and Obesity)

Why Choose Amen Clinics for Treating Hormonal Imbalances?

At Amen Clinics we are experts in the brain-body connection. We have functional medicine physicians and nutritionists on staff who specialize in hormones and the regulation of body and brain function. Some hormonal imbalances, such as abnormal cortisol levels, can alter brain function and can impair memory and cause brain fog. Other hormonal imbalances can negatively affect mood and energy levels. Our specialists are trained in optimizing hormone levels to get you back to feeling like yourself again.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hormonal Imbalanced Brains Work Differently

Hormonal imbalances can affect brain function in numerous ways. For example, hypothyroidism (see below) decreases brain activity, chronic stress (cortisol and DHEA abnormalities) produces more white matter and fewer neurons (gray matter), estrogen imbalances negatively impact activity in the hippocampus (mood and memory), and progesterone issues can affect production of the neurotransmitter GABA.

Healthy Brain Scan

Hypothyroidism Brain Scan

SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) is a nuclear medicine study that evaluates blood flow and activity in the brain. Basically, it shows three things: healthy activity, too little activity, or too much activity. The healthy surface brain SPECT scan on the left, looking down from the top, shows full, even symmetrical activity. The SPECT scan on the right shows overall low activity and decreased blood flow, which looks like waves or scallops, a brain pattern commonly seen in people with hypothyroidism.

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Types of Neurohormones and Their Impact on Brain Health/Mental Health

The following hormones can have a direct impact on brain health and mental well-being. If you have psychiatric issues that aren’t responding to treatment, it’s a good idea to check your hormone levels and optimize them if necessary.

Thyroid: The Mood & Energy Regulator

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in your lower neck that plays a powerful role in keeping your brain and body healthy. This gland regulates how your body uses energy, and it also has a strong impact on the brain because it controls the production of many neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and GABA. Problems occur when thyroid dysfunction causes the gland to produce too little hormone (hypothyroidism) or too much hormone (hyperthyroidism).

Hypothyroidism: Brain SPECT scans of people with hypothyroidism show overall decreased brain activity, which often leads to depression, cognitive impairment, anxiety, and brain fog.

Hyperthyroidism: An overactive thyroid produces too much hormone, making everything in your body work too fast. It can feel like you’re in hyper-drive—you feel jittery and edgy, as though you’ve had way too much caffeine.

Common Symptoms of Thyroid Dysfunction

Hypothyroidism Hyperthyroidism
Fatigue Sleeplessness, restlessness
Difficulty concentrating Anxiety
Memory problems Irritability
Depression Racing thoughts
Attentional problems Difficulty concentrating
Psychosis Memory problems
Depression
Mania
Psychosis

Estrogen: The Mood Modulator

Estrogen is one of the primary hormones involved in a woman’s menstrual cycle. When estrogen levels are healthy and balanced, it helps optimize neurotransmitter production and brain function so you feel good all month long. When estrogen levels are out of balance, it causes problems.

Too much estrogen in relation to progesterone: This can lead to a condition called estrogen dominance. This causes the gentle monthly hormonal rise and fall to turn into a series of intense spikes and dramatic drop-offs that disrupt important brain processes and make you anxious and irritable.

Too little estrogen: This leads to feeling depressed and confused. The loss of estrogen also hinders critical thinking, short-term memory, and other cognitive functions. These problems can worsen during perimenopause when estrogen levels can fluctuate wildly and during menopause when the hormone drops and stays low.

Common Symptoms of Estrogen Imbalances

Estrogen Dominance Low Estrogen
Mood swings, depression Mood changes, depression, weepiness
Fatigue Fatigue
Sluggish metabolism Heart palpitations
Low libido Osteoporosis
Headaches or migraines Painful intercourse
Brain fog, memory loss Brain fog, memory loss, focus problems
Weight gain, especially in the belly and hips Weight gain
Thyroid dysfunction Bladder incontinence and infections
Sleep disturbances Sleep disturbances
Fibrocystic breasts Hot flashes
Bloating
Vaginal or oral yeast
Heavy bleeding
Carbohydrate cravings

Progesterone: Nature's Anti-Anxiety Hormone

Progesterone is the other major hormone in a woman’s monthly cycle. It affects the brain in the following ways:

  • Supports GABA, which helps the brain relax
  • Protects your nerves
  • Supports the myelin that “insulates” and protects neurons

When progesterone is in balance with estrogen, it calms you, brings feelings of peacefulness, and promotes sleep. But when they are imbalanced or when the relaxation hormone drops too dramatically, calmness can give way to irritability, anxiety, depression, sleepless nights, and brain fog. For some women, when progesterone and estrogen plummet right before menstruation starts, mood stability goes out the window.

Common Symptoms of Low Progesterone

  • Anxiety/Depression
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fibrocystic breasts
  • PMS
  • Premenstrual headaches
  • Postpartum depression
  • Bone loss

Testosterone: Moods, Motivation, & More

Most people associate testosterone with men. It’s true that this vital hormone drives the development of the male brain and is responsible for the deep voice, facial hair, and many other features we associate with maleness. But women produce and need testosterone too (just as men have some estrogen), just in smaller amounts.

In both men and women, testosterone helps protect the nervous system and wards off depression, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease. The aging process, however, can leave some men with low testosterone levels that have been shown to increase symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as a host of other issues.

Common Symptoms of Low Testosterone

  • Moodiness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of motivation
  • Low libido
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Erection problems
  • Increased body fat and reduced lean muscle
  • Low bone density
  • Hot flashes
  • Hair loss

Cortisol and DHEA: Stress

The adrenal glands, located above your kidneys, play a vital role in how your body reacts to stress. When acute stress hits, the adrenals release a cascade of hormones, including adrenaline, DHEA, and cortisol as part of your “fight-or-flight response.” When the danger passes, your body’s processes return to normal—your muscles relax, your heartbeat and breathing slow to their usual rate, and your adrenals cut back on stress hormone production. When stress becomes chronic, the cocktail of harmful chemicals that come with it can overwhelm your body and contribute to brain health/mental health issues.

When cortisol levels get stuck on high, it also causes a spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. This leads to detrimental changes in the brain, including a drop in the calming neurotransmitter serotonin, leading to a range of psychological issues. Ultimately, high levels of cortisol increase the likelihood of developing lasting psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

In the brain, chronic stress produces more white matter and fewer neurons (gray matter) than normal, skewing their balance and interfering with communication within the brain.

Common Signs of Adrenal Fatigue

  • Decreased ability to withstand stress
  • Morning and afternoon fatigue, lack of stamina
  • High blood pressure and rapid heartbeat
  • Abdominal fat that doesn’t go away, no matter what you do
  • Mental fog with poor memory and difficulty concentrating
  • Low sex drive
  • Craving for sweets or salty foods
  • Dizziness when getting up from a seated or prone position
  • Signs of premature aging
  • Lowered resistance to infection
  • Poor wound healing

Insulin: The Blood Sugar-Mood Connection

In the body, the hormone insulin is involved in regulating blood sugar levels. Your body’s cells need sugar (glucose) for energy, but they can’t absorb it directly from your bloodstream. That’s where insulin comes in. Released by the pancreas when you eat carbohydrates, insulin is like a key that unlocks cell membranes so they can get the glucose they need from the foods you eat.

If there’s too much sugar in your bloodstream, insulin signals your body to shuttle it to the liver for storage, which can eventually lead to fatty liver disease in some people. Another consequence of high insulin levels is that the body switches from breaking down and flushing dietary fat from the body to storing that fat, which over time, can lead to weight problems. One of the main consequences of chronically eating a high-sugar diet and obesity is a decrease in insulin’s ability to regulate blood sugar, leading to pre-diabetes and diabetes.

How do insulin and blood sugar levels affect your mind? Eating sugar or refined carbs causes blood sugar levels to spike and, subsequently, causes them to crash. This rollercoaster effect can impact your moods and mental wellbeing.

Common Signs of Blood Sugar (Insulin) Issues

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Addiction to sugar
  • Trouble concentrating

 

“How Do You Know Unless You Look?”

– Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

 

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