Understanding Hormones and Moods in Women
 By Alex Strande, ND, Ph.D




On a journey through the uncharted seas of perimenopause and menopause, many women encounter rough sailing. Days may be filled with the swells and troughs of depression, tears, mood swings, irrational angry outbursts, lethargy, and fatigue. Nights may find you in turmoil with gripping anxiety and panic attacks along with soaking night sweats. Add to this, the unexplained weight gain and low libido, and you know something is seriously awry.

Your moods and body may seem totally out of control. What is happening? The emotional roller coaster that accompanies premenstrual syndrome (PMS), perimenopause and post menopause is most profoundly connected to the flow of two powerful hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Nature has designed estrogen and progesterone to be partners in a delicate balancing act. When that balance teeters in either one direction or the other, a whole host of health problems ensue.

Our modern lifestyle with its stressful demands, irregular eating habits, junk food cuisine, frequent use of pharmaceutical drugs, and environmental toxic exposure has shifted the hormonal balance way over to the estrogen excess side. When estrogen is out of balance with progesterone, a condition called estrogen dominance occurs. This imbalance can cause depression, mood swings, anxiety, irritability, anger, insomnia, fatigue, weight gain, bloating, mental fogginess, low libido and sore breasts.

Estrogen excess plays a huge role in creating PMS symptoms. Progesterone is the dominant hormone the two weeks before menstruation. It is produced in amounts 200 times greater than estrogen at that time. Due to the many stresses, nutritional deficiencies and eating indiscretions that are so common in Western living, estrogen levels can far exceed progesterone levels. The woes of PMS, including the emotional ride, are the result of this topsy-turvy hormone production. Far from deficiency in estrogen, the modern menopausal woman is more likely to experience high levels of estrogen and low levels of progesterone, creating that all too familiar estrogen-dominant profile. In fact, the World Health Organization has reported that an overweight postmenopausal wo-man has more estrogen circulating through her body than a skinny pre-menopausal woman.

The prevalence of estrogen dominance can be confirmed. Instead of estrogen deficiency, modern women are really suffering from progesterone deficiency. Even perimenopause, a five to ten year journey of hormonal adjustments preceding menopause, is now recognized as a time when the body is making really high levels of estrogen along with low progesterone output due to irregular ovulations. Unfortunately the prevailing erroneous belief that this stage of a woman’s life is accompanied by declining estrogen levels results in misdiagnosis and mistreatment with ‘The Pill’ or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), increasing toxic estrogen levels even further.

According to Dr. Jerilynn Prior, researcher and Professor of Endocrinology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, the various symptoms of perimeno-pause are due to an excess of estrogen, not a deficiency. It’s a time when the ovaries are doing their grand finale! Dr. Prior’s research has also discovered that as many as 50% of young women in their 20’s are not ovulating every month (although they continue to menstruate) leading to month-long intervals of estrogen dominance which worsens PMS mood swings and other symptoms.

When the steroid-hormone drugs are used, either in the form or The Pill or HRT for PMS, perimenopause or menopause, estrogen levels may be raised by as much as 100 times more than those that the body would normally be making. For many women depression, anger flare-ups, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, lethargy and unpredictable mood swings. The Pill and HRT also rob the body of vital nutrients including B-vitamins, vitamins E and C, folic acid, magnesium, selenium and zinc which further comprises physical and emotional health.

In addition, estrogen blocks the release of hormones from the thyroid gland, contributing to a sluggish thyroid condition known as ‘hypothyroidism.’ Symptoms of hypothyroidism include depression, postpartum depression, mood swings, lethargy, mental fogginess, weight gain and menstrual irregularities. Estrogen can also activate the adrenals to produce the stress hormone, cortisol, leading to various harmful effects, including brain aging and bone loss. Excessive demands placed on the adrenals will lead to adrenal exhaustion causing anxiety, panic attacks, depression or rapid mood swings, mental sluggishness, feeling mentally and physically over-stressed, crying bouts, insomnia, night sweats and generalized fatigue.

A woman’s ability to feel and express her deep emotional life is one of the greatest gifts of being a woman. However, hormone balance is a delicate matter and is easily thrown out. Working long hours, getting too little sleep, daily stresses, a diet containing too much sugar, other refined carbohydrates, caffeine, alcohol and hydrogenated oils, skipping meals will all lead to estrogen dominance and its domino effect on the entire endocrine system.

Whatever emotional imbalance a woman may be experiencing, it is a powerful signal to address the underlying imbalance. Although mood swings of whatever variety have many causes, hormonal imbalance is always a key component. It is important to work with a competent holistic practitioner to discover and correct the underlying health problems behind the emotional imbalance. Popular drug therapies such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and minor tranquillizers will only alleviate the symptoms, never the causes, and often have serious side-effects which include mood swings, depression, anxiety, insomnia, hypertension (high blood pressure) and sexual dysfunction!

During this time it is best to give the liver extra support by adding therapeutic doses of liquid extracts of herbs and amino acids. Add healthy portions of liver-friendly foods such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, pumpkin and kale, while reducing liver-toxic foods such as sugar, refined carbohydrates, caffeine, alcohol, preservatives and trans-fatty acids from margarine and fried foods.

As I am committed to an herbal and nutritional program, I also included more hormone-balancing foods. Regular exercise, meditation and quality personal time are given prominence in my stress reduction program. Within just two to three weeks, panic attacks cease, mood swings disappear, the night sweats end, energy increases, and sleeping is sounder. A woman’s life does not need to be a journey of perpetual emotional storms. Mood swings can be replaced with emotional balance

Alex Strande, ND, Ph.D. is a Naturopath and a Microbiologist. His special interests are difficult-to-help conditions. His office can be reached at (949) 553-1882 for questions and appointments  

Return to the May/June Index page