Depression is one of those not-so-pleasant symptoms of hormonal fluctuations that we don’t like to talk about. Everyone is always telling us to think positive and look on the bright side. We’re worried that no one wants to hear how we really feel, so we put on our happy face and hide the fact that we’ve been struggling for some time now with feeling depressed, fatigued, overwhelmed, and we’ve lost interest in life. You may be asking yourself, “How did I get here? Why do I feel so bad?” If you’re between the ages of 35-50 (or somewhere in that neighborhood) then your hormones are most likely to blame. Your reproductive hormones are fluctuating, and ultimately beginning to or finishing their decline to menopause. It can be a difficult time. But it doesn’t have to be.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, you may be considering a trip to your doctor to discuss the possibility of anti-depressant medication. Before you do this, let me encourage you to try a more holistic approach first. You see, anti-depressants don’t really fix the underlying issue. They’re sort of a stop-gap solution. For starters, they don’t address the underlying hormonal changes that are most likely the root cause or your depression. Secondly, it has been estimated that a significant percentage of individuals on anti-depressants don’t actually see any marked improvement of their symptoms. Yikes! All that money for nothing. Thirdly, as you know, all drugs have potential side effects. Why risk developing side effects like nausea, insomnia, agitation, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and cardiovascular events if there is a better solution?
What your doctor is not considering…
When you complain to your health care provider about your depression symptoms he or she may be quick to write you a prescription. Most of the time, unless they are a functional medicine or holistic practitioner, they don’t take the opportunity to search for underlying causes. It’s quicker to just slap on a band-aid. They may not take the time to order blood work to check your hormone levels.
What do my hormones have to do with my depression?
There are four key hormonal players that are most likely responsible for contributing to your depression in some way, shape or form.
If you’re struggling with symptoms of depression it could be that your estrogen levels are too low. Your estrogen levels normally fluctuate during your cycle, but sometimes they can drop too low, which can really mess with your body. Estrogen helps to boost serotonin and endorphins as well as increasing levels of the neurotransmitter GABA. These hormones have a profound affect on your mood and sense of well-being. When your estrogen levels are too low your brain’s natural serotonin production suffers leading to depressed mood, insomnia, fatigue, and a decreased sense of pleasure in life.
While estrogen is important for maintaining healthy emotional balance, progesterone is equally important for maintaining your hormonal equilibrium. Progesterone is a calming hormone, and it has antidepressant-like effects. It also helps to regulate your estrogen levels. Without the proper balance between estrogen and progesterone, you can experience a range of mood disorders from depression to anxiety.
Here’s an interesting connection for you: According to scientific research, it has been shown that nearly fifty percent of severely depressed individuals have elevated cortisol levels. That puts your chronic stress into a whole new light now, doesn’t it? Chronic stress, as you know, is a major factor in elevating cortisol levels. Your other hormones suffer because of it, leading to imbalances in estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid hormones, which then lead to dropping levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that keep your mood balanced. Do you see the cascade? Depression is not something that happens overnight. It happens as a result of changes happening in your body over a longer period of time.
Your thyroid has multiple roles in your body. Its controls your metabolism, helps regulate your blood sugar, and helps control the release of stress hormones, among other things. When you have a deficiency of thyroid hormones your neurotransmitters can be affected, leading to depression. If you suffer from symptoms of hypo-thyroidism you should definitely get checked by your doctor.
Before you take an anti-depressant
Many people want a quick fix for their depression, however, I think it would be worth your while to do a little investigating to find out what is causing your depression and take steps to correct it before you turn to anti-depressant medication. A visit to your doctor or trusted healthcare professional might be in order. Ask them to order blood work to check your estrogen, progesterone, thyroid, and/or cortisol levels. Having your Vitamin D levels checked may also be helpful as a deficiency can also cause symptoms of depression.
There are a number of things you can try to help support normal hormone levels and boost your mood. First of all, make sure you’re moving on a daily basis. I know it might be hard to get yourself out of bed or off the couch right now, but doing some yoga or taking a daily walk (we’re not talking hard-core exercise here) will increase blood flow and stimulate your brain to release endorphins.
Pay attention to what you’re eating. If most of your nutrition is coming from highly processed food then chances are your blood sugar and insulin are on a roller-coaster. When you consume a lot of sugar, the crash that follows can make you feel pretty low emotionally, mentally, and physically. Opt for less sugar and more protein mixed with a moderate amount of healthy fats to help balance your hormones.
There are a number of supplements that you may find helpful. Research has shown that taking supplemental magnesium (especially in combination with Vitamin D) may help to ease depression and anxiety. Read about the Top 10 Supplements for Hormone Balance.
My final suggestion is to add some essential oils to your daily routine. No, they won’t fix your underlying hormonal issues, per say, but they can give you an edge on toning down your stress levels which may ultimately help balance out your mood. Add some uplifting oils to your diffuser each day to help you relax, focus, or give you a little mood boost. Your sense of smell is directly connected to the limbic center of your brain which controls emotions. The fastest way to affect this control center is through your olfactory sense. Here are a few great choices for diffusing when you need a mood boost: Bergamot, Clary Sage, Lemon, Rose, and Rosemary are all uplifting and great for easing tension.
I know it feels like you can’t pull out of this pit. You will get there. Take some time to think about how you got here. Before you head down the road of a lifetime relying on medications, you owe it to yourself to find a better way, and I’m here to help!