How Your Hormones Can Impact Your Happiness
This guest post is written by Dr. Hanisha Patel, a licensed naturopathic doctor who focuses on hormones and their connection to mental health.
Mental health issues have risen significantly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic with 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression, up from about 1 in 10 adults reporting the same symptoms in June 2019. With this alarming increase, there is a lot of information being shared around self-care routines, mindsets, and therapy to improve mood, and while these are all absolutely necessary, there is one extremely important piece missing: the aspect of joy.
We often get so caught up in the ideal lifestyle, workout routine, or meditation practice that we are unable to let go and experience one of the most wonderful emotions we have. Though an exact definition has stumped scientists for generations, most can agree that joy is an innate feeling within us that comes when we are in balance in mind, body, and spirit. Everyone experiences joy in different ways, but often when we fail to experience it naturally, we begin to seek it synthetically via antidepressants or in alcohol or drugs.
However, if we fail to experience joy naturally, it is likely due to neurochemical and/or physiological imbalances, especially physiological imbalances in our hormones. When our hormones are out of balance, it can have a significant impact on our emotions, even causing debilitating mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Fortunately, we also have the power to influence our hormones through intentional practices that can stimulate joy in our lives.
In this post, we will explore the link between our hormones and our ability to experience joy, looking at the role each hormone plays in regulating this vital human emotion, and actions we can take to ensure they are at the right levels.
A common picture of hormones being “out of balance” is when inflammatory estrogen levels are higher, progesterone levels are lower, and testosterone levels are either too high or too low.
The link between reproductive hormones and joy
There are three different types of estrogen: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Estrone breaks down into three different metabolites: 2-OH-E1, 4-OH-E1, and 16-OH-E1. The 4-OH-E1 is the inflammatory type of estrogen. We need a small amount of this to protect us, but in excess it can lead to a number of health issues, including mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depression, and other PMS symptoms. The best way to reduce inflammatory estrogens is by eating a polyphenol-rich diet which consists of a variety of vegetables like dark leafy greens, broccoli, artichokes, radishes, turnips, beets, and more.
When testing estrogen levels via blood work, they may come up as normal. However, the blood test does not give a complete picture of which estrogens are in excess and which are deficient. This is where The Dutch Test can offer a more comprehensive overview of estrogen and other hormones.
Progesterone is the key hormone needed to conceive, and in suboptimal levels, it can lead to infertility and miscarriage. When progesterone levels are low or estrogen levels are significantly higher (leading to a lower progesterone ratio), sleep disturbances, depression, low libido, and migraines are common. When we experience excess stress, this is also the first hormone to be compromised. That’s why developing healthy stress management techniques like yoga and meditation are crucial to improving progesterone levels. If that is still not enough, it may be helpful to incorporate herbal medicines like vitex.
Though testosterone is generally considered a male hormone, women also produce and need it in moderation. Women with lower levels of testosterone may experience fatigue, low libido, weight gain, and depression. Low testosterone levels are often also associated with stress, but things like strength training and healthy stress management techniques can help increase them. Saw palmetto may also be supportive for some women to help increase testosterone levels. Women with higher levels of testosterone may experience anxiety, acne, and infertility. This most often occurs due to PCOS, and in order to address this, the underlying causes of PCOS must be considered, including insulin resistance, thyroid dysfunction, digestive issues, and inflammation.
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are mainly produced by our reproductive organs but there are many other hormones that interplay with their actions like cortisol and oxytocin.
Cortisol and Progesterone
Cortisol is the stress hormone, and as cortisol levels increase, progesterone decreases as a natural defense mechanism. This mechanism exists to help the body focus on the most essential bodily functions needed to keep us alive.
Oxytocin and Joy
Oxytocin is the love hormone which has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and elevate mood, possibly because it has been found to increase progesterone levels. It is also released every time we hug a loved one and during sex. Oxytocin even plays an important role during labor, allowing for regular contractions to occur while also enhancing the mother-child bond.
While all of these physiological hormonal changes can affect our mood, we also have the chance to stimulate positive hormonal effects simply by creating space for joy in our lives, whether that joy comes from a good belly laugh shared with friends, hugging someone you love, being in nature, expressing gratitude, or whatever else your heart desires. Experiencing this pleasurable emotion can help optimize our hormones and therefore our overall well-being, which is why it is crucial to build practices that stimulate joy.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a mood disorder like anxiety or depression, consider looking into your hormonal health, as you may find there are changes you can make before considering antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.
**Please note this article only covers information relating to hormones as it pertains to cis-gender women. For additional resources on hormones and mood, please visit UCSF Transgender Care.
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