Mood Changes—The Hormones and Nutrients We Need for Balanced Mental Health
What’s In a Mood?
Sad, angry, anxious, overwhelmed…these are just a few of the many emotions that make up our moods. In fact, scientists have identified 27 distinct categories for emotion with many variations and degrees in between. According to the APA (American Psychiatric Association) mood is defined as a prolonged emotional state, which differs from affect, the term used to describe a short-lived emotional change. For many of us, the intensity of feelings and the rate at which moods change can be startling, especially when we don’t know why.
Women and Mood Changes
In worldwide epidemiological studies, women are up to three times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode than their male counterparts. A wide body of research suggests that the connection to fluctuating estrogen levels strongly affects the regulation of emotion, mood, and behavior. We further know that many areas of the brain including the amygdala, hippocampus and other temporal regions are central to mood regulation and sensitive to changes in hormones, including estrogen.
Because of this, throughout female reproductive cycles and the menopause transition, women are much more vulnerable to mood swings.
Mood Changes in Midlife
It has been well documented that estrogen in women increases the effects of serotonin and norepinephrine, the two neurotransmitters most related to the biology of depression.
Other reasons women may suffer more than men from depression, anxiety, or anger especially in midlife include:
- Lack of social support
- Surgical menopause
- Poor overall health in general
- Negativity toward menopause and aging
- Lack of exercise or time to exercise
- Interpersonal stress
- Other illnesses
- Stress with care of aging parents
- The loss of fertility due to age
- Empty nest syndrome
Men, Mood, and Andropause
Low levels of testosterone are linked to many symptoms, both physical and emotional in men. While women may be at a higher risk for depression and mood disorders, some males do experience difficulty with emotional regulation associated with hypogonadism (testicular failure) as they age.
They may experience:
- Mood swings
Although these mood changes may be associated with age and the decline of testosterone in the body, more research is necessary to positively link testosterone decline with mental health in men. Interestingly, some men with an established diagnosis of depression (regardless of age) have been found to have lower than normal testosterone levels in the body.
The Mood and Food Connection
Aside from hormonal changes in the bodies of both men and women, nutrition accounts for much of the function of the brain and mood regulation. Mood disorders may occur or become worse in both sexes because of nutrition and diet.
While most of us understand the connection between our physical health and nutrition, many of us don’t recognize the major connection between what we eat and mental health. Poor appetite, the craving for sugary foods, and skipping meals may precede depression and actually lengthen its duration.
Mood Changes and the Gut
In the human body the neurotransmitter, serotonin is necessary for the regulation of sleep, appetite, and mood and about 95% of serotonin is made in the gastrointestinal tract where millions of nerve cells reside. Gut bacteria play an important role in health by protecting the intestinal lining, limiting inflammation, and supporting neuropathways from the gut to the brain.
If too much bad bacteria invades the gastrointestinal tract, mental health, among other things may suffer. This explains why many individuals report enhanced mood when treated with a probiotic regimen.
How Glycemic Control Changes Mood
According to recent studies, about 25% of individuals with diabetes report depressive symptoms. Depression is also twice as prevalent in women with diabetes than it is in men. Poor glycemic control is associated with depression, anger and anxiety in both sexes.
Americans and Nutrition
According to statistics, Americans exceed the recommended intake levels of calories from solid fats, added sugars, refined grains, sodium, and saturated fat. Not surprising, we as a nation eat less than the recommended daily amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, and healthy oils.
Many studies also support the fact that a diet high in refined sugars can contribute to depression in individuals. In fact, research has shown that sugary soft drinks can lead to poor mental health, and conduct issues, where more nutritionally adequate diets support lower levels of impulsivity and negative behaviors in individuals. Many vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids are partially responsible for positive health and behavior.
Nutrient Deficiencies and Mental Health
Research suggests that there are common nutritional deficiencies in individuals who suffer with mental health issues or mood changes.
These may include:
- Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency
- B vitamin deficiency
- Mineral deficiency
- Amino acid deficiency
This may be because specific nutrients are precursors for the creation of neurotransmitters.
Mood Changes and Nutrition
Carbohydrates cause the body to release insulin, filling the cells with sugar for energy and triggering tryptophan in the brain. This in turn positively affects neurotransmitter levels. Eating a diet with fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and pasta supports healthy brain and mood chemistry as opposed to refined sugars from sweet foods and desserts.
Long chain amino acids make up proteins. The neurotransmitter dopamine is created from the amino acid; tyrosine while the neurotransmitter serotonin is made from tryptophan. A lack of these two amino acids can lead to depressed mood and aggression in some individuals.
The consumption of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids has been linked with a reduction in depressive symptoms as well. Diets deficient in omega-3 PUFA’s may partially lead to a disturbance in neural function. These fatty acids are not naturally manufactured by the body, but must be supplied by diet and transported to the brain.
Studies have shown marked improvement with mood disorders such as depression by supplementing the diet with vitamin B-2, and vitamin-B6. Vitamin B-12 is also known to delay the onset of dementia in older individuals and helps to improve cognitive function.
In patients with depression, folate levels may be reduced by 25% and the deficiency associated with poor treatment outcomes with antidepressant therapies.
A deficiency in the mineral, chromium has been associated with poor mental health.
Iodine is important to ensure the metabolism of energy in cerebral cells.
Iron deficiency causes fatigue and depression in some individuals. Depression is twice as likely to occur in women of childbearing age. The gender difference begins in adolescence and continues well into the 40’s. This is understandable since low levels of iron and anemia are much more common in women as well.
Low selenium levels have been associated with depression and low mood. Supplementation with selenium has been found to improve mood and diminish anxiety.
Several studies have found that low zinc levels are lower in individuals with clinical depression. Oral zinc may make antidepressant therapy more effective.
Regular supplements with essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids have been found to lessen the severity of depressive symptoms in several studies. Amino acids, which help with the creation and conversion of neurotransmitters, are also necessary in the diet.
Treatment Options for Mood Changes in Both Men and Women
Hormone tests for specific imbalances and deficiencies, as well as a complete nutrient evaluation can help identify underlying causes for changes in mood. Based on test results, one or more of the following treatment options may be recommended by your health practitioner.
- Hormone replacement therapy (including bio-identicals)
- Estrogen supplementation for women
- Testosterone replacement for men
- Natural supplements to support sexual health and hormones in aging
- Dietary changes including healthy carbohydrates, proteins, essential fatty acids
- Nutrition supplements containing B-complex vitamins, folate, chromium, iodine, iron, selenium, zinc
- Daily exercise such as walking, dancing, bicycling, hiking, running
When we’re feeling intense negative emotions for too long, or our moods swing back and forth for seemingly no reason, consider a hormone imbalance or nutrient deficiency as a possible cause.
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