Have you noticed that you get mood swings in the second half of your cycle? Or that you feel amazing during the first half? That’s all down to the monthly-ish rise and fall of your hormones. Gang, it’s time we talk about how changes in hormones and mood are deeply interlinked.
Hormones and mood: how does it work?
As you’ve probably already noticed, your moods and hormones have a distinct relationship. And much of that relationship comes from your Menstrual cycle. Each of the reproductive hormones has its own effect on both your physical and emotional state, because they’re massive multitaskers like that. Here’s how it breaks down…
Estrogen and mood swings
Estrogen usually acts to improve your mood. It peaks just before Ovulation so you’ve probably noticed that you feel pretty good around that time in your cycle. That’s partly down to the way Estrogen increases Serotonin production, which is one of the hormones that makes you feel happy.
But Estrogen also increases other happy chemicals in your brain, including Endorphins. These are also produced when we exercise. You might have heard of them in that context, or in Legally Blonde!
Progesterone and mood swings
While Estrogen has a largely positive effect on your mood, the effect of Progesterone is slightly less predictable. For some, it produces a depressant effect. There isn’t a massive amount of research on Progesterone and mood – don’t get us started on how we need to research these things better! – but it seems to make the part of your brain that reacts to danger or stress more reactive.
That part of your brain is called the Amygdala and having a more responsive one can lead to increased feelings of anxiety or stress. There’s also evidence that Progesterone can have a similar effect on your brain as alcohol and sleeping pills. And that can depress your mood, too.
When does Progesterone become more dominant?
During the second half of your cycle, after Ovulation, Progesterone becomes the dominant hormone. It’s produced by the corpus luteum, the group of cells left in your ovary after an egg is released. The diagram below shows what the different hormone levels are doing during the menstrual cycle.
What happens when Progesterone is the dominant hormone?
As you can see in the chart above, after Ovulation, Progesterone levels rise dramatically. Estrogen also increases during the Luteal phase, but at a much lower rate.
Those lower levels of Estrogen makes you less happy, but when coupled with high Progesterone, mood swings, and depression can follow. However, as you approach your period, all hormones drop. And as anyone with PMS can attest, that can lead to mood swings, cravings, depression, and all that lovely stuff.
If we have the same hormones, why are my symptoms different?
The interaction between hormones and mood is different for everyone, because everyone’s hormone needs and levels are different. That’s partly why the range of “normal” hormone levels is huge, because we all have differing amounts of all the hormones. During a menstrual cycle, the general trend of change is, admittedly, similar in most. But the actual hormone levels and how they make you feel are entirely individual.
Hormones and mood: What happens after Menopause?
We still don’t quite understand all the intricacies of hormones and mood. For instance, you’d expect that if Estrogen improves your mood, then those who are Postmenopause, and have particularly low levels of Estrogen, should feel unhappy all the time. But that’s simply not the case. In fact, many people notice that their moods improve after Menopause.
This might be because the lack of hormone fluctuations means that your moods are just more level by then. But that absolutely underlines two things. First, that we don’t quite understand any of this yet. And second, that we’re all different even after Menopause.
Also, that menstrual health and Menopause need to be researched better, but that’s another story.
What’s the best way to handle hormone-related moods?
If the vagaries of hormones and mood impact your life during the Luteal phase, or as PMS, you’re not alone. And the good news is, there are some things you can be doing to reduce those swings.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggests that balancing out your blood sugar levels with smaller, frequent meals can help with PMS symptoms. And swapping blood sugar-spiking white bread, pasta and rice for wholewheat versions can go a long way to achieving a stable blood sugar level.
Calcium-rich foods like green vegetables can help with mood swings, as can Magnesium supplements. And reducing your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and refined sugar and salt can also help with bloating, headaches, and cramps.
If you are really struggling with your mood, it is worth talking to a trusted healthcare professional. They will be able to refer you to a psychological support service or prescribe medication to help, if that is something you want to try.
Hormones and mood: The good stuff
You’ve probably heard of Serotonin, better known as the “happy hormone.” Often praised — or blamed — for the state of our day-to-day moods, it’s certainly a hormone that has a lot to answer for.
But what is Serotonin, how does it affect your mood, and what can you do to make sure you’ve got enough?
What is Serotonin?
As both a neurotransmitter and a hormone, Serotonin delivers messages from your brain to your body to tell it how to function. No pressure, then! The “happy hormone” is produced naturally by your body, but here’s something you may not know. Despite its association with mood, just 10% resides in your brain. The rest — a whopping 90% — lives in your gut. Who knew?
How is it connected to my mood?
When Serotonin is busy sending messages, it also regulates your moods. The bad news is that it has the same favorite pastime as every other hormone: fluctuation.
When your Serotonin levels are within the optimum range, you feel more stable, content, and able to concentrate. However, when those levels start to fall, you’re more likely to experience anxiety and depression.
What causes low Serotonin levels?
Clearly, our little “happy hormone” has a lot to take care of. So what’s causing all that fluctuation? There are usually two reasons. Your body may not be producing enough of it. Or, your body might not be using the Serotonin it has produced in the most efficient way.
How can I lift my mood?
Fret not gang, because here’s the good news. You have more control over your levels than you think. Serotonin is made from tryptophan, an essential amino acid that your body can’t produce naturally. Which means you’ve got to add it manually, via nutrition.
Luckily, there are many conveniently delicious tryptophan-rich foodstuffs.
- oily fish
- fermented foods
Did we mention the tryptophan-rich fruits? Pineapples, tomatoes, plums, bananas, and strawberries are all serotonin promoters.
Wait, there’s more!
Chances are you’ve heard it before, but regular exercise and increasing your intake of Vitamins D and B6 are also fantastic ways to encourage your serotonin levels. And don’t forget fiber. Remember, 90% of the hormone is found in your gut. So, taking care of your gut also means looking after your mood. And if that won’t get you eating more pineapple, we don’t know what will!
Hormones and mood: When they work in harmony
It’s one of those weeks. No, no, not that kind. The Have-you-done-something-different-with-your-hair-you-look-amazing kind. You’re positively glowing. You’ve conquered your to-do list, picked up a new hobby, just cos you can, and your strut screams confidence, baby! Why can’t we feel like this all the time? Well, the link between Dopamine and your menstrual cycle might have a little something to do with it. How? Allow us to explain…
Hormones and good moods?
Oh yes, gang. There are some hormones that will actually improve your mood and mindset. And that mostly comes down to Dopamine. Menstrual cycle aside, it’s one of your feel-good hormones. It drives us to seek out experiences that make us happy and rewards us for engaging in pleasurable behaviors, giving us that push to do it again.
- Motor control
All of which means Dopamine can have a huge impact on how you feel and what you’re able to achieve.
Dopamine and your Menstrual cycle
So, here’s something you may not have known: Estrogen and Progesterone actually regulate your Dopamine levels during your menstrual cycle. Yes, it’s more of the rollercoaster ride, but in a slightly more positive way… For the most part. Which means that fluctuations cause all sorts of interesting stuff.
Estrogen and Dopamine
Now, this is actually good news. Estrogen plays an active role in regulating and enhancing, yes, enhancing your Dopamine levels. So, those days when you hop out of bed with a spring in your step, spritely and unstoppable, you might just be in the Follicular phase – when Estrogen is climbing to its peak. And that happens just before Ovulation. Peak Estrogen is, essentially, you at your absolute best.
You might also experience:
- Better impulse control
- Better memory and cognitive function
- A handy boost in motivation!
Yup, Estrogen can be a huge help when it comes to being your best you. If only that happened every week…
Menopause and low Estrogen
As you’ve probably already worked out, if higher Estrogen makes you feel energetic and go-getting, then lower Estrogen will likely have the opposite effect. And if you’re living with a hormone issue, including Thyroid conditions, or going through any stage of Menopause, you’ve probably already felt the sharp end of this exact thing.
And low Estrogen also results in lower Dopamine levels, hitting you with a one-two combo that’s likely to leave you as exhausted as you’ve ever been. If that’s happening to you right now, we absolutely feel you. But please don’t despair.
Whether it’s a fritzy Thyroid or Menopause, there are some things you can be doing to encourage a healthier hormone balance. From diet and nutrition to exercise and mindfulness, you don’t have to live with the exhaustion.
But, if you find that nothing you’re doing is improving your energy levels, and you’re tired all the time, please talk to a healthcare type. It’s never a waste of time to find out if something else is going on, k?
Progesterone and Dopamine
While you probably associate higher Progesterone with the dreaded PMS, it’s also got its fingers in the Dopamine pie. That, though, can be slightly worrying.
Why? Well, it seems that Progesterone can, apparently, let’s say, encourage the release of Dopamine in the area of your brain that’s concerned with… Excess. Namely sex, food, stress, and drugs. This hormone combo can, allegedly, dampen your impulse control to the point you may indulge in slightly more addictive and risky behavior than is typical. And while that can be fun, it can also be an absolute nightmare.
But, your behavior and motivation can also benefit from Progesterone production, particularly when it’s working with Estrogen. In fact, Progesterone stimulates Dopamine release and contributes to increased cognitive and motor function when your Estrogen levels are just right.
Hormones and mood: Finding a balance
Gang, we know what you’re thinking: Thanks, Hormona, for adding another frickin’ hormone to my list of shiz that’s affecting my life. Well, first off, you are, as always, welcome. And no, we’re not being sarcastic. As regular Hormonas know, we’re all about knowing our bodies and those pesky hormones. And forewarned is, as ever, forearmed.
The, perhaps only, good thing about Menstrual cycle-adjacent hormone fluctuations is that they’re all temporary. Up to a point anyway. They’ll always be a time in your cycle when your levels are low and causing a drop in mood and concentration. But, they’ll also always be a time in your cycle when your energy and motivation are high.
Admittedly, where Menopause is concerned, that temporary part can take a decade, but that, too, shall end. Eventually. We think.
So what now?
But if you’re finding those fluctuations hard to handle, or if they’re affecting your quality of life, we recommend a couple of things. First, tracking your symptoms and cycles can be invaluable. That’s where the Hormona app comes in – you can track symptoms, fluctuations, periods, and see patterns and associations you probably had no idea were happening,
And second, please talk to a healthcare type. No one has to live with crazy mood swings just because they have a Menstrual cycle. And that very much includes you. Finding out if there’s an underlying issue — or not — is always worth doing. To paraphrase a famous Jennifer Aniston commercial, you are very much worth it.
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