Hormones influence virtually every bodily function and disruption of their activity can result in significant health issues and chronic conditions including depression. Without identifying and addressing an underlying hormonal imbalance, it is unlikely that a patient’s depression will not improve.
The Lowdown on Depression
Depression is a mood disorder affecting a troubling number of people. In 2016 the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimated that 16.2 million Americans, roughly 6.7 percent of adults, had at least one major depressive episode during the year. Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) over 300 million individuals worldwide experience depression within a year’s time.
Unfortunately, the most common approach to treating depression is to simply prescribe antidepressants without a thorough examination of the cause. This practice often causes more harm than good. To properly treat this prevalent mood disorder, it is important to consider all possible factors including hormone balance. If your depression is the result of hormonal issues, antidepressants will likely do little to ease symptoms. Depression caused by an underlying hormone imbalance, disorder, or malfunction will only be resolved when treatment is focused on resolving these problems.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones act as messengers that deliver information to and from virtually every system in the body. These essential chemicals influence all bodily functions including mood and mental well-being.
Because of their significant influence, shifts in hormone balance or poor hormone activity can cause serious dysfunction. For example, hormonal imbalance can cause symptoms associated with depression including:
- A sense of helplessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of motivation
- Lingering sadness or loneliness
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Muscle and joint pain
- Poor appetite
- Reduced sex drive or libido
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
What Causes Hormone Imbalances?
There are many reasons why hormones may become imbalanced. Common conditions such as thyroid disease, adrenal fatigue, diabetes, obesity, and sleep disorders can disrupt hormone activity and promote imbalances that may result in depression. Poor nutrition, unhealthy lifestyle habits, and genetics can also contribute to skewed hormone values, as well as age. The decreased number of hormones and decline in hormone activity as the body ages increases the risk of dysfunction and disease such as depression.
Are My Hormones to Blame?
Hormones are essential components of health. When working as intended they help the body run smoothly and support a myriad of functions ranging from energy regulation to mental sharpness. However, a hormone deficiency or imbalance can disrupt the entire body and result in the development of depression. Although there are many hormones that play a role in mood regulation and mental wellness, thyroid hormones, cortisol and the sex hormones are of particular importance regarding the occurrence of depression.
Thyroid hormones influence numerous bodily functions through the regulation of cellular energy. A lack of thyroid hormone, also known as hypothyroidism, causes system-wide sluggishness and can result in symptoms of depression such as insomnia, mood swings, fatigue, anxiety, fluctuations in weight, muscle pain and weakness – get the full list of thyroid disease symptoms here. Supporting thyroid function may prove to be greatly beneficial for treating depression. Recent research suggests that resolving thyroid imbalances through the use of T3, the active form of thyroid hormone, can increase the efficacy of antidepressants and may also alleviate symptoms of depression when used on its own.
The adrenal glands are responsible for producing multiple hormones that influence mood and stress. Perhaps the most influential of these being cortisol. When the body is stressed, cortisol levels increase to help the body remain active, focused, and energized. However, constant elevated cortisol levels can deplete the adrenal glands meaning that other essential hormones are not synthesized. During a state of adrenal exhaustion, it is common for patients to experience symptoms relating to depression such as anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and difficulty dealing with stress. Furthermore, while the adrenals are fatigued, and stress remains constant, the body does not have an opportunity to recover fully. This creates a vicious cycle of stress and exhaustion that initiates and prolongs depression.
Sex Hormones (Estrogen and Testosterone)
The primary sex hormones are estrogen and testosterone. These two hormones influence essential bodily functions including focus, mood regulation, reproduction, and much more. An imbalance of these critical chemicals can result in depression and other forms of dysfunction.
When at the appropriate level, estrogen can improve symptoms of depression by increasing production of a helpful neurotransmitter called serotonin. Increased levels of serotonin can improve mood, alleviate anxiety, and restore personal outlook. Alternatively, a lack of estrogen can contribute to a serotonin deficiency resulting in depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other symptoms relating to depression. Furthermore, excess estrogen, or estrogen dominance, can cause significant swings in mood and promote powerful depressive symptoms. Even though estrogen is touted as the female sex hormone, maintaining an appropriate level of estrogen in both men and women is an important component of fending off depression.
Testosterone plays a critical role in male mental wellness. When working as intended and at the appropriate level, testosterone promotes self-confidence, regulates mood, and promotes a greater sense of well-being. Low testosterone is often accompanied by symptoms of depression. Poor testosterone levels are a common concern because as men age their levels being to decline rapidly. For example, by the time most men reach the age of 60, their body will likely only produce one quarter of what it was when they were in their 20s. Therefore, the risk of depression among men increases significantly with age.
Balancing Hormones for Better Mental Health
Depression is a prominent problem affecting many individuals both nationally and globally. Unfortunately, many are not aware of the powerful influence that hormones have over their mental well being and their relationship to mood disorders such as depression. When treating depression, it is essential that hormone imbalances be considered and subsequently treated. If you are suffering from depression be sure to have your hormone levels checked as an imbalance could be the underlying cause of you condition.
1. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Depression (major depressive disorder).” mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/definition/con-20032977
2. WebMD Staff. “Depression, the Thyroid, and Hormones.” https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-the-thyroid-and-hormones#1
3. National Institute of Mental Health. “What is depression?” nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml