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Hormonal Imbalances

A healthy brain and a healthy body require balanced hormones. When hormone levels are out of whack, you can experience fatigue, memory problems, mood swings, sleep disturbances, and a host of other symptoms. Addressing hormonal imbalances can help you feel like yourself again.

WHAT ARE HORMONES?

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:

  • Thyroid—energy regulation
  • Estrogen—mood modulator
  • Progesterone—nature’s anti-anxiety hormone
  • Testosterone—mood, motivation, sexuality, strength

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.

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 anxiety, depression, 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.

THYROID: THE MOOD AND 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 Pain
Bloating Hot flashes
Vaginal or oral yeast (thrush)
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, AND 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

DIAGNOSING AND TREATING HORMONAL IMBALANCES

If you’re experiencing symptoms of hormonal imbalances, testing will be recommended to assess your hormone levels. If imbalances are detected, hormone replacement therapy may be recommended as part of a complete treatment plan to optimize your brain and physical health.

Many people think hormone therapy is just for menopausal women. In reality, however, women, men, and children—in various stages of life—can develop hormonal imbalances and benefit from hormone therapy. Balancing your hormones can dramatically improve your quality of life in a short amount of time.

Hormone therapy can:

  • Increase energy and vitality
  • Balance moods
  • Soothe anxious feelings
  • Boost focus and concentration
  • Increase libido
  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce cognitive and memory problems
  • Minimize PMS symptoms
  • Decrease hot flashes associated with menopause

At Amen Clinics, we recommend bioidentical hormones, rather than synthetic ones, at individually customized dosages for maximum safety and effectiveness. In some cases, this can be referred to as bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). Our personalized approach to treatment makes far better sense than a “one size fits all” approach—no two people are exactly the same, so why would their hormone levels be? And, since our bodies are so sensitive to hormone levels, our doctors order specific lab tests to help gauge the most precise dose for your unique needs.

Your Amen Clinics physician can help you understand if hormonal imbalances may be contributing to your symptoms and decide if hormone replacement therapy may be beneficial for you.

Dr. Mark Filidei, Director of Integrative Medicine for Amen Clinics discusses bioidentical hormone replacement therapy:

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