Hormones are major links in the mind body connection. They are chemical the chemical messengers that can turn on and off a variety of genes in every cell in your body-including your brain! All known hormonal imbalances may manifest as psychiatric disorders, such as depression, mania, anxiety, ADD, memory disturbances, dementia and even psychosis. On the other hand, bearing the burden of any of these disorders, over time, will affect your hormonal function as well. Hormonal imbalances also mimic the side effects of anti-depressants by causing weight gain, brain fog, sexual problems, and depleted energy levels. It is clear then, that hormonal problems go hand-in-hand with depression, and sorting out “hormone triggered” depression from clinical depression is not always easy. Most patients have a mixture of the two. For this reason, in the practice of Whole Psychiatry, a detailed assessment of the hormonal systems should be a routine part of every psychiatric evaluation.
A hormone called cortisol (made by your adrenal gland) is part of the body’s shock absorber system. We all drive down the road of life. and we hit real or imagined pot holes. If our shock absorbers are functioning well, its like we are driving a Cadillac. We feel the pothole, but only briefly and then we make a quick recovery. If we have poor shock absorbers, we feel like we are driving an old pick-up truck over a dirt road. We hit a pot hole, are stunned by it, and may even veer off the road.
What determines how our shock absorbers work? Some of it is genetic, and some of it is set by the time we are 11 or 12 weeks of age! In addition, chronic stress, nutritional and chemical factors, social environments, attitudes, perceived sense of control, spiritual orientation, and interpretation of the meaning of events play an important role.
Your body’s glands take their cues from your brain. When an event is perceived, a meaning is assigned to the event, and a hormonal response appropriate to the assigned meaning occurs. Thus your brain determines the exact timing and amount of cortisol that is released into your blood stream: too much cortisol at night, and you can’t fall sleep, too little cortisol in the morning, and you can barely peel yourself out of bed!
By the same token, your brain then gets a message from your adrenal glands via the cortisol in your blood stream, which provides a status update on hormone production and release. The constant relay of information between your brain and your adrenal glands keeps your brain, immune system and stress response functioning normally.
But this system’s equilibrium can be upset when you take a blow from, say, depression, manic depression, anxiety, chronic stress (such as a divorce or chronic illness), chronic pain, or recurrent bouts of low blood sugar. In fact any of a number of hormonal imbalances (e.g., adrenal, thyroid, reproductive hormones) are one of the major reasons that many anti-depressant treatments don’t work, or why patients with bipolar disorder are not stabilized.
In summary, if you have a mood disorder, check into your hormonal status, looking at adrenal function, thyroid function (check a TSH, free T3, free T4, reverse T3, body temperature), blood sugar regulation, reproductive hormones, and melatonin.
Give the wide variety and effect of pesticides and hormone interrupters in our world, I strongly advocate for organically grown foods. Aside from the superior nutritional content, and health benefits seen in experimental animals, there is growing concern that the chemicals we accept in our environment cause significant hormonal problems in the population at large, by mimicking or blocking the functions of our own hormonal systems.