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Managing Mood & Mental Health Through Hormonal Changes

Today's focus is on serotonin and the interactions with oestrogen.


Women feeling alive and happy in a field holding a sunflower

As it's Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to talk a bit more about hormonal fluctuations and the resulting impact on mood, mental health and how you feel.


Serotonin & Oestrogen


What is serotonin?

Serotonin, is often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, as it is responsible for mood regulation, memory and cognition, it also supports sleep (as it's a precursor to melatonin), can affect satiety and much more. Not to mention that approximately 90% of serotonin is in the gut!  


How do we make serotonin?

At its core, serotonin is synthesised from tryptophan, an essential amino acid (one of the building blocks of proteins). This is often found in turkey, chicken, salmon, nuts, seeds, tofu, and dairy products. A number of enzymatic processes in the body convert tryptophan to serotonin using key co-factors or nutrients, these include and are not limited to oestrogen, B vitamins, zinc and vitamin D. 


So already we can see that if you are not eating enough of the right type of proteins, or these cofactors, or you are struggling with your digestion, you are not going to be able to produce adequate amounts of serotonin.


The role of oestrogen

Interestingly oestrogen is also influential. Oestrogen is a sex hormone which plays a role in both male and female reproductive systems. In females it is one of the main sex hormones and it promotes the development of the female physiological system and governs reproductive health. It is produced in most part by the ovaries.


I'm always fascinated the more I learn about the effects of oestrogen. There are oestrogen dependent pathways and receptors throughout the human body. So, the effects that hormonal fluctuations have, such as those experienced during cycles and peri-/menopause, can significantly impact many functions, including in this case serotonin production.


But the human body is amazing, it does try and compensate and there are other co-factors that can be used to replace the lower oestrogen levels as you start going through menopause. You can see from the below excerpt from my Nutrigenomic Nervous System Report from LifeCodeGX, the other co-factors but also the relevant genes that can play a part in this process.


LifeCodeGX Nutrigenomics Nervous System Report showing pathway to produce serotonin

Other factors

But as the above excerpt shows, even before the body starts to synthesise serotonin, some of the tryptophan can be diverted towards another pathway. This pathway is influenced by stress as well as inflammation, it's the body's way of naturally diverting where it believes it needs the most tryptophan, in this case to support the immune system.  


But serotonin receptors as well as metabolism also effect the levels of serotonin in the system. The symptoms of both high and low serotonin are also very similar. So, it's not just one size fits all, many factors can influence this process. 


Peri-Menopause / Menopause

Therefore, as women start going through peri-/menopause, with the drop in oestrogen, many women start experiencing symptoms of low mood or anxiety. Anti-depressants, or SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors), are commonly prescribed, and often for those women who cannot take HRT. SSRIs help keep the serotonin in the system and available as they slow down the re-absorption of serotonin. They are also often used to support vasomotor symptoms, ie hot flushes. But at the same time, a lot of women can be incorrectly prescribed SSRIs, because as we know, there are many elements influencing serotonin.


Understanding the whole picture is key and this is where Nutritional Therapy comes in, looking at the individual as a whole, their story, their lifestyle and environment can really be key.


What can you do?

But there are steps that you can take if you are experiencing mood swings, or getting more anxious than before. Maybe you need to begin to work on looking at what you can change to support your system -


  • Stress is always the big one, have tools in your toolkit to support you.

  • Eat a balanced whole food diet, this is the best way to ensure you are getting the foods and nutrients you need.

  • Seek medical advice, if you feel that your symptoms are not manageable. Maybe HRT is the option for you.

  • Supplements, where you feel that you cannot adequately take in what you need, targeted supplements can be a way forward to support your system. Or maybe you're taking too many.

  • Understand your body and what works for you - this is often what I tell my clients, we are so disconnected from ourselves so taking the time to connect with yourself is important.

  • Medication review, if you are on any medications including SSRIs, maybe it's worth having them reviewed.

  • Book a call with me - you could be taking back control of your body and your health by starting a personalised programme. Maybe you want to explore your genetics and your pathways to see how we can optimise those to really support you through these changes.


References


Medical Disclaimer

Note, the information provided in this newsletter is designed to provide helpful information on the subjects involved. This is not meant to, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any medical condition. For diagnosis or treatment of any medical concerns, consult your own doctor or health care practitioner. If there are any specific health conditions, please ensure dietary changes are factored in also with the knowledge of your doctor.

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