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By Alex Allan on 08/03/24 | Top tips

Healthy, happy hormones

When you think about mental health, you’re probably thinking about your brain and how that works. The picture is often much more complex. Hormones play a big part because these chemical messengers are the background to everything that happens in your body. How you feel, therefore, is not just psychological, it’s biological.

Did you know, there are a huge number of symptoms that are common to both depression and hormonal imbalance? These include low energy, dizziness, low mood, apathy, anxiety, irritability, anger, lack of enthusiasm, despair, headaches, poor concentration, feelings of hopelessness, lack of confidence, low libido, fuzzy brain, memory loss, and insomnia (although there are others).

Rebalancing your hormones naturally is not something that happens overnight, but it can be greatly improved with the help of nutritional and lifestyle change. This blog will allow you to pinpoint where you might need help or support.

Mood and your cycle

Two of the main hormones that affect your feelings of mental wellbeing and clarity are oestrogen and progesterone, and these change throughout your menstrual cycle. It’s an over-simplification – but perhaps a helpful one – to think about oestrogen largely bringing positive effects to your mood and progesterone contributing more negative effects. With such a pronounced hormonal connection on mental health, it’s small wonder that women are twice as likely to suffer from depression than men.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 64% of women who suffer from depression say their symptoms get worse during the pre-menstrual period. Hormones are also likely to contribute to antenatal or postnatal depression, which affect around 10-15% of new mothers. And anxiety and depression are also starting to be recognised as symptoms of the peri- menopause on top of hot flushes and night sweats.

How it works

At certain times in your cycle (in the run-up to ovulation), there will be lots of oestrogen in your system and women tend to feel brighter and better in their mood. You might even notice at this time you feel better at talking and articulating yourself. In the second half of your cycle, oestrogen dips and progesterone comes into play. For some women, this can lead to lowered mood or depression.


You might already experience this as Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS), a very common condition linked to the changing levels of these hormones, that might include feelings of bloating, breast tenderness or headaches, or manageable emotional symptoms like irritability.

For a small number of women (about 2-8%), the effect of these hormones on their mental wellbeing is pronounced. This is called Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD); an extreme form of PMS and one that, if you think might apply to you, you will want to ask your doctor about.

Why does this happen?

One of the first things to know is that the production of dopamine and serotonin (the two main brain chemicals associated with the development of depression and psychosis) is heavily linked to levels of oestrogen.

Research seems to suggest that there isn’t a noticeable difference in levels of oestrogen between those who are affected by mental health symptoms around their period or during the menopause – it seems some women are just especially sensitive to hormonal change, or perhaps also that lifestyle problems like stress may also play a big part.

Other hormones


You might think of testosterone as the male hormone and, while men do produce much higher levels, every woman needs testosterone, too. Testosterone can increase sexual desire and libido, make bones and muscles strong, and have you feeling assertive and confident. The downside can be anger and aggression. For us women with PCOS, we can suffer from an excess of testosterone and other androgens, which comes with its own set of issues. 


Altered levels of thyroid hormones impact on mental wellbeing. If you just don’t feel like yourself, feel lethargic and low, it could be that your levels of active thyroid hormone are low. This can often run hand in hand with PCOS and it’s important for you to have it checked out. 


Cortisol is one of the main stress hormones and, when stress levels are high, literally any of the mood-related symptoms I have mentioned in any of the above might be present.


Oxytocin directly opposes cortisol. It’s the love hormone and, if you have children, you might recognise it as the hormone that floods women after childbirth to encourage bonding. It has a direct effect on appetite, insulin resistance, weight loss – and your mood.

Impact of hormones on your blood sugar levels

Low oestrogen levels have a role to play in insulin sensitivity (that means how sensitive – or not – the cells in your body are to the fat storage hormone insulin). In fact, a lack of sensitivity to insulin (or even being resistant to the effects of insulin) is lurking behind many of the common hormonal symptoms in PCOS, like fatigue and weight gain as well as symptoms of low mood like brain fog, anxiety and depression.

“Hormones and mental health” is a complex picture in which your physiological health and mental wellbeing are inextricably intertwined. It’s best to work with a nutrition practitioner to unravel this for you. They will be able to piece together a hormone balancing food and lifestyle plan to suit your circumstances. Check out my Hormone Balancing Action Plan or why not book in a call here?

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