Guest article by Rhiannon Lytle, Holistic Nutritionist
Specializing in hormones, digestive health and general nutrition
Say it with me: mental health is complicated! We know now that our body and mind are connected in more ways than we previously thought. Our gut, our food consumption, and there is especially evidence to show that our hormone health can have a drastic effect on our mental health.
When we say “hormones” we don’t just mean the ones we attribute to reproduction. You body is made up of these complex chemical messengers, which coordinate everything from growth, metabolism, stress response and, of course, reproduction.
Adding to the complexity: hormones all work together. This means that if one is out of balance, there is generally a cascade effect which alters the rest of our hormone levels.
There are three main hormones to focus on in relation to our mental health. For both men and women, cortisol and estrogen play a large role. Cortisol helps us to wake up and fall asleep at night, but it also is triggered when we are under stress, and estrogen is one of our sex hormones.
Women also have higher levels of progesterone, another sex hormone, which has a significant impact on mental health over the course of the menstrual cycle.
Cortisol is an “alpha hormone”, which has historically helped us in our fight or flight response: we stayed and fought the bear that was coming to eat us, or we ran.
What also happens we fight or flea, is that many of our other systems will simply shut down. Reproduction, digestion, and rational thinking are all secondary to protecting ourselves. This means that the hormones that go along with it will be out of balance.
Today, many of us are constantly under stress and we experience cortisol that is too high, and negatively impacts the release of our feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Progesterone is one of our sex hormones, and has a large impact on menstruating women. It is highest during the second phase of the cycle. However, many women who deal with progesterone imbalance, either from excess estrogen or low progesterone, may also experience PMS-related anxiety or depression.
Now, there are a few reasons for this, however one explanation is that progesterone impacts the function of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which has a role in promoting calmness and good moods.