Unfortunately, many people affected by mental health conditions don’t make the important connection between their hormones and mental health. The separation between the two in the popular consciousness is understandable – on the surface, hormones and mental well-being don’t seem to be related.
Although the link between mental health and hormones isn’t obvious, it is nonetheless very real: our hormones have a massive impact on our mental health.
In fact, hormonal imbalances alone can often account for clinically diagnosable depression, anxiety, or other emergent mental health disorders.
The Misunderstood Connection: The Mind and the Body
The unfortunate reality is that conventional medical providers rarely examine their patients’ hormonal profiles as part of any standard diagnostic workup when their patient seek care for symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Overlooking hormones when treating patients with depression or anxiety is a major mistake that occurs all too often in American medicine.
The good news is that the medical community – and the public community at large – is waking up to the critical role that hormones play in the maintenance of both good physical and good mental health.
The highly complex hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) performs much of the hormonal regulatory work that supports mental health. When it’s working properly, we don’t notice. On the other hand, when it’s not working, fluctuating hormone levels can have reverberating effects throughout the endocrine system, disrupting the function of important organs – including the brain – and their interactions with one another.
The HPA Axis
Abnormal or insufficient levels of many hormones, including testosterone and estrogen, can negatively affect the HPA axis, cognitive function, and overall mental health.
The Major Hormones and Their Effects on Mental Health
The human body hosts over 50 known hormones with a wide variety of functions – ranging from maintaining sex drive to controlling metabolism (energy levels) to regulating mental health.
Here is a rundown of the most important hormonal regulators of mental health and how they protect the brain and optimize its function.
Testosterone Supports Good Mental Health
Men need testosterone throughout their lives to stay healthy. Women also require testosterone in lower amounts.
Testosterone drives motivation, increases physical strength, maintains virility and sexual libido, and, most importantly here, regulates mental health:
“Testosterone has also been shown to play a role in mood and mental health… TRT improved positive mood parameters (energy, well-being) and decreased negative mood parameters (anger, irritability). The study also found that the largest increases in mood occurred when subjects were in the low-normal serum testosterone range.”
–Review in Urology
As men age, testosterone levels tend to decline. This is often assumed to be part of the “natural aging process,” but, in fact, there is no reason that older men should accept testosterone deficiencies in 2020 – there are options now to correct these imbalances for better health.
Men typically experience a 1% drop in testosterone per year beginning at peak concentrations of the hormone in the blood following puberty.
In addition to the chronic loss of testosterone across the lifespan, testosterone levels in US men have further dipped considerably in recent decades. Researchers still are unsure of all the causes of dropping testosterone levels in men across all age groups.
The bottom line is that testosterone is immensely important for maintaining your cognitive edge and staying mentally productive.
If you have experienced depression but found no relief from pharmaceutical antidepressants or other treatments, the probability that low testosterone is either a contributing or primary cause of your distress is high.
Estrogen Supports Good Mental Health
The female sex hormone estrogen is just as important to women as testosterone is to men. Healthy estrogen levels in women promote libido, regulate the fertility cycle, and fend off mental health disorders.
During menopause, the ovaries cease production of estrogen and the menstrual cycle stops. Following these hormonal shifts, which typically affect women in their 40s or 50s, a number of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms can occur.
Some women’s bodies react more negatively to menopause than others. Menopause carries a major risk of newly developing depression and/or anxiety disorders in women – especially if she is naturally pre-disposed (through genetics or lifestyle factors) to developing such mental health disorders.
Although estrogen is most known as a sex hormone, the body actually has estrogen receptors located throughout ever major organ. This means that estrogen plays a role in every major organ’s function – including the brain.
The chart below details all the known locations of estrogen receptors in the body.
Source: Trends in Pharmacological Sciences
The brain, as illustrated above, contains both alpha and beta estrogen receptors.
Science knows much more now not just about the well-demonstrated link between estrogen and mental health disorders, but also the mechanisms by which low estrogen affects neurological function.
One potential reason that estrogen is so influential on mental health is that levels of the hormone are known to influence serotonin levels (an important neurotransmitter) in the brain, which have been heavily implicated in depression and other mental disorders.
In women who have an estrogen deficiency, replacement therapy can get estrogen levels back to baseline and, in many cases, effectively treat depression where conventional attempts using SSRIs or other drugs have failed.
The Impressive Mental Health Benefits of Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT)
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) represents the next generation of hormonal management.
This revolutionary new therapy replaces falling levels of testosterone (in men) and estrogen (in women) with 100%-naturally sourced plant hormones called “phytoestrogens.” These plant hormones perfectly match the molecular structure of naturally-occurring human hormones (hence the name “bioidentical”).
Bioidentical hormones are extremely safe, well-tolerated, and effective for the vast majority of those who receive them.
Here is the essential blueprint for how BHRT can potentially improve mental health symptoms in men and women.
For Men: How Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) Repairs and Protects Men’s Mental Health
Most men experiencing a steady decline of testosterone are assured to feel the negative health effects at some point – either in the form of a total lack of energy, a loss of interest in sex or other activities, and feelings of hopelessness.
These are all actually common symptoms of depression. What is likely occurring is that testosterone levels have declined, which has caused a disruption to the neuroendocrine system (the brain-hormone system interface), which then causes depression.
This is where many clinicians make a serious mistake – they may attempt to treat the man’s depression with SSRIs or other drugs that alter neurochemistry without ever addressing the root cause of testosterone deficiency.
Such events are common. Duke City Health routinely treats male patients with testosterone deficiency who have tried antidepressants or other drugs but experienced no improvements in their symptoms.
Within weeks, in addition to the physical benefits of BHRT, men with testosterone deficiencies who receive therapy with bioidentical hormones achieve significant improvements in cognitive function and mood.
For Women: How Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) Repairs and Protects Men’s Mental Health
The concept of BHRT for women is similar to men, except that estrogen is supplemented instead of testosterone.
A small “pellet” (too small to be noticed at a glance) is inserted under the skin. Over time, this hormone pellet regularly releases estrogen into the blood, slowly increasing your estrogen levels.
After several weeks of therapy, the nervous system benefits of restored estrogen levels become apparent.
Women who receive estrogen via BHRT report feeling more energetic and more optimistic. In addition to a restored sex drive and reduction or elimination of the physical symptoms of estrogen decline, women who benefit from higher estrogen levels with therapy also reliably and significantly improve their symptoms of depression.
The Bottom Line on Hormones and Mental Health
Age-related depression or other mental health disorders that are associated with hormonal imbalances are not inevitable. If you experience any unwanted symptoms of impaired mental health such as depression, anxiety, or cognitive difficulties, seriously consider seeking the advice and care of an experienced endocrinologist.
Rebalancing your hormones just might be the solution that your body craves to recover your good mental health. Duke City Health specializes in high-quality, advanced hormone replacement therapy.