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Hormones & Mood Swings

Hormones are responsible for myriad bodily functions, and they affect our bodies in myriad ways, including our mood. Since the menstrual cycle features so many different hormonal processes, most women experience related emotional symptoms.

Many women report their symptoms being trivialised, their suffering considered unimportant and inevitable. This attitude discourages seeking treatment, and in many cases prolongs our suffering with symptoms that could have been diminished, even eliminated, with relative ease.

Feminine afflictions

‘Hysteria’ was once a common medical diagnosis for women, based on the theory that the uterus could travel freely around the body. (This idea was later connected to demonic possession!) Symptoms of hysteria included anxiety, irritability, fainting, sexually forward behaviour, lack of sexual desire, and generally inconvenient and unpredictable behaviour.

We have now arrived at a much more accurate understanding of the female body and its cycles and are able to analyse mood swings from a hormonal perspective.

In this article, we will be talking about estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. The first two are generally considered female hormones, while the third is thought of as a male hormone. However, both men and women produce all three to a certain extent. 

Estrogen

Estrogen—the female sex hormone—plays a major role in the female reproductive system. Most of a woman’s estrogen is produced in the ovaries, but it is also made in the adrenal glands and in fat cells in small amounts. During pregnancy, the placenta produces estrogen.

The term ‘estrogen’ actually refers to a family of chemically similar hormones—estrogens:

  • Estrone— a weak estrogen, a steroid, a minor female sex hormone. The body can convert estrone to estradiol when needed. It is best known for being the dominant form of estrogen during menopause.
  • Estriol—a weak estrogen, a steroid, a minor female sex hormone. Estriol levels rise during pregnancy but are almost undetectable in women who are not pregnant.
  • Estradiol—the strongest acting estrogen, a steroid, the major female sex hormone. It is found in both men and women, but women have it in significantly higher levels. High levels of estradiol have been linked to acne, loss of sex drive, and depression. Extremely high levels increase the risk of uterine and breast cancer. If levels are too low, however, estradiol can result in weight gain and cardiovascular disease.

The levels and development of estrogens vary at each stage of life—puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. At the onset of puberty, estrogen plays a role in the development of so-called female secondary sex characteristics, such as breasts, wider hips, as well as pubic and armpit hair.

But it doesn’t stop there! Estrogen…

  • helps regulate the menstrual cycle, controlling the growth of the uterine lining during the first part of the cycle;
  • if the egg is not fertilized, levels decrease sharply causing menstruation;
  • if the egg is fertilized, it works with progesterone to stop ovulation during pregnancy.

Estrogen also controls lactation and other changes in the breasts, it is instrumental in bone formation and plays a role in blood clotting. This hormone maintains the strength and thickness of the vaginal wall and the urethral lining and regulates vaginal lubrication.

These are only some of the reasons we need estrogen. It’s fair to say that estrogen is a pretty important hormone when it comes to how our bodies and minds function. Unsurprisingly, this means that when estrogen levels fluctuate, other things do too, including menstrual cycle, hair growth, and happiness.

Progesterone

Progesterone is a steroid hormone belonging to a group of hormones called progestogens; progesterone is the major progestogen in the human body. Its physiological impact is amplified by the presence of estrogens.

The corpus luteum in the ovaries is the main site of progesterone production, but it is also produced in smaller quantities by the ovaries themselves, the adrenal glands, and the placenta (during pregnancy).

Progesterone plays many roles, but we will focus primarily on its role within the reproductive system.

Progesterone prepares the endometrium for a potential pregnancy—in the event that the released egg is fertilised. Progesterone also prohibits muscle contractions in the uterus, which would cause it to reject an implanting egg. If the egg is not fertilised, then the corpus luteum breaks down, lowering progesterone levels in the body, and another menstrual cycle can begin.

Progesterone is sometimes referred to as the ‘pregnancy hormone' as it plays a major role in the development of the foetus, including:

  • preparing the lining of the uterus to allow the fertilised egg to implant;
  • stimulating glands and the growth of blood vessels in the endometrium to provide nourishment for the embryo;
  • helping preserve the endometrium throughout pregnancy;
  • supporting the establishment of the placenta.

Once the placenta has developed, it becomes a secondary source of progesterone (the primary source being the corpus luteum). This causes a pregnant woman’s body to maintain elevated levels of progesterone throughout her pregnancy; this stops additional eggs from maturing and helps prepare the breasts for milk production.


An anovulatory cycle is a menstrual cycle characterised by the absence of ovulation and a luteal phase. In the absence of ovulation, fertilisation cannot happen. Anovulatory cycles are fairly common—most women will experience them throughout their fertile lives. They are most common during adolescence, when menstruation begins, and closer to menopause, before both menstruation and ovulation stop altogether.

Both estrogen and progesterone levels drop significantly before menopause. This is thought to be the cause of many common menopausal symptoms, so women going through the change are often prescribed hormone replacement therapy to treat their symptoms. However, this must be done with caution as there can be side effects.

Testosterone

Testosterone is a primary sex hormone and an anabolic steroid. It is produced by the gonads—the testes in men, and the ovaries in women. The adrenal glands also produce small amounts of testosterone in both sexes. Testosterone levels surge during adolescence and drop in the later decades of life in both men and women.

Testosterone is an androgen, which means that it stimulates the development of secondary sex characteristics in males:

  • muscle growth
  • increased bone mass
  • hair growth
  • vocal changes
  • enlargement of the penis, testes, and prostate gland
  • behavioural changes, such as an increase of self-confidence, risk-taking, aggression, and libido

Testosterone in women is generally found at 5–10% of the amount found in males. In women, testosterone works in combination with estrogen to help repair, grow, and maintain tissue and bone mass.


So, why the mood swings?

Current theories point to the hormonal fluctuations present in the second half of the menstrual cycle as the main cause of mood swings. During the ovulatory phase, a woman’s body releases an egg, which triggers a drop in estrogen and progesterone levels that can cause both physical and emotional symptoms.

Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels influence serotonin levels. Serotonin is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. It helps regulate your mood, sleep cycle, appetite, and digestion.


Low levels of serotonin are linked to feelings of sadness and irritability, trouble sleeping, and unusual food cravings. These are all common symptoms of ‘premenstrual syndrome’, or PMS.

About 95 % of the serotonin in your body is produced in the lining of your gastrointestinal tract, where it regulates the movement of your intestines. The remaining 5 % is produced in your brainstem, where it transmits signals between nerve cells in your brain.

Serotonin in the brain is thought to be one of the most important hormones regulating mood. However, it’s important to keep in mind that serotonin’s role in preventing/causing the symptoms of PMS, especially the psychological ones, isn’t fully understood.

How to deal with mood swings

The hormonal system is complex, and we are only scratching the surface here. Hormones often work in combination to regulate the complex systems on our bodies. Therefore, it is not possible for a doctor to prescribe a magic pill to improve your mood.

If you think you are experiencing mood swings related to your menstrual cycle, keep a mood journal so you can track how you feel through the different stages. PMS will be rhythmic, cyclical.


Knowing there’s a reason you’ve been feeling moody can be validating and help keep things in perspective.

Having a detailed log of your last few cycles is also handy if you want to bring up your symptoms with your doctor. It can help your doctor get a better idea of what’s going on.

Our period–tracking app is a convenient place to log information about your mood and other symptoms as you track your cycle.

Make a note when you experience any of these symptoms:

  • sadness or sudden, unexplained changes in your mood
  • crying spells or irritability
  • poor sleep or too much sleep
  • difficulties concentrating or lack of interest in your daily activities
  • tiredness or low energy


Depending on your medical history, your doctor may recommend a hormonal birth control method, such as the pill or the patch to help relieve bloating, tender breasts, and other physical symptoms of PMS. For some people, they can also help relieve emotional symptoms, including mood swings.

For others, hormonal contraception can make mood swings worse. You may need to try several different types of birth control before you find one that works for you.

Several lifestyle factors also appear to play a role in PMS symptoms. Addressing these may help:

  • Exercise. Be active for at least 30 (more) minutes per day. Even a daily walk around your neighbourhood can help relieve feelings of sadness, irritability, and anxiety.
  • Nutrition. Resist the craving for junk food that often comes with PMS. Sugar, fat, and salt can all wreak havoc on your mood. You don't have to eliminate them completely but try to balance them with nutrient-rich foods such fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This will help keep you full throughout the day and prevent sudden drops in blood sugar, which can make you irritable.
  • One clinical trial found that a calcium supplement helped with PMS-related feelings of sadness, irritability, and anxiety. Many foods are good sources of calcium, including milk, cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt, leafy green vegetables, fortified orange juice and cereal. You can also take a daily food supplement containing calcium. Dietary changes won’t have an instant effect. Eat well and be accepting of yourself.
  • Sleep. Not getting enough sleep can mess with your mood at any stage of the cycle. Try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night, especially in the week or two before your period. And remember—to sleep well you need to be outside for at least an hour a day! Melatonin—the sleep hormone—is produced only when the cornea of your eye is exposed to sunlight. If your melatonin levels are not high enough, your sleep will be superficial, and you will not feel rested when you wake up.
  • Stress. Unmanaged stress can make mood changes worse. Use deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga to calm your mind and body, especially when you are experiencing symptoms of PMS.

Mood swings and the creative personality

Some women learn to love their mood swings and use the introspective time to engage in creative activities. It’s ok to feel low or unsure. It’s ok to take time to process the events of your life. It’s ok to feel all of your feelings. They are telling you something.


You may come to trust yourself to the point that in the darkest and saddest days of your cycle you can connect with your creativity to produce genuine, personal, powerful works of art.

Sometimes it really is too much

Is what you are experiencing more serious than the change in mood associated with the onset of menstruation? It’s not always easy to tell. Again, a mood journal can help you understand how long you have been feeling blue and how your feelings change over time. A trusted friend or family member may be able to give you some perspective.

If nothing seems to help, consider talking to your doctor about antidepressants. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common type of antidepressant used to treat PMS-related mood changes. These are prescription medications that some women find very helpful when going through a rough patch.

This too shall pass

Nothing ever stays the same. Paying attention to the way hormones work in your body reinforces this truth. None of us is perfectly healthy and happy all of the time. We get off track in many ways. If you are out of sorts, you may be able to push the feelings aside for a while, but in the long run you will be glad if you take the time to consider what is affecting you and what can help you get back to where you want to be. It’s always going to be an inside job. It’s true for all of us and that’s ok.

You can track your period using WomanLog. Download WomanLog now:

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https://sante.lefigaro.fr/article/pourquoi-l-humeur-de-certaines-femmes-change-a-l-approche-des-regles-/
https://www.healthline.com/health/female-sex-hormones
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/277737#what-is-progesterone
https://www.healthywomen.org/your-health/progesterone/overview
https://www.healthline.com/health/high-testosterone-in-women
https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/do-women-have-testosterone
https://www.healthline.com/health/serotonin-deficiency
https://therabbitisin.com/when-mood-changes-a-lot-4f40dd2cf31
https://www.healthline.com/health/rapid-mood-swings
https://www.livescience.com/38324-what-is-estrogen.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480686/
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