Mood swings are a common complaint that I see in my practice as a symptom that often accompanies hormonal imbalances or times of hormonal transition, such as perimenopause. While some changes in mood are normal and welcome, other mood changes impact our health, self-care and quality of life.
Today’s article will dive into the topic of mood and we’ll explore the connections between mood, hormones and neurotransmitters.
This article will answer the questions:
What Is Mood? Difference Between Mood Swings and Mood Disorders
Let’s start with the basics: What is mood?
The term mood describes a general feeling or state of mind at a particular time. It often refers to the dominant emotion. Mood is internal, influenced by genetic vulnerabilities (SNPs) and a host of environmental variables. A certain mood may last for minutes or even days. Mood determines our behavior and impacts nearly all aspects of life.
Types of mood include a happy mood, mellow mood or calm, anxious, cheerful, energetic, melancholy, nervous, sad, silly and more. Chances are that you experience many moods every day.
Mood swings refers to changes in mood that are often negative. Examples include mild depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability and overwhelm. Mood swings may be mild and normal, or more extreme affecting quality of life.
Mood disorders, or affective disorders, revers to a mental health disorder that affects the emotional state. Mood is distorted, inconsistent or affects one’s ability to function. Mood disorders typically refer to clinical depression and bipolar disorder. Mood disorders are outside the scope of this article.
How Do Hormones Affect Mood?
Hormonal imbalance or swings often affect mood. If you’ve ever felt anxious or “hangry” between meals or experienced a depressed mood prior to your period, these are common examples of the relationship between hormones and mood.
If symptoms of mood swings are disrupting your life, functional medicine seeks to find the root cause. Hormone imbalances and restoring hormone balance is helpful for improving mood.
Here are some of the hormone-mood connections I see in women in my practice:
Since one hormone imbalance may look similar to another in terms of changes in mood, I always recommend comprehensive testing in order to determine your unique hormonal pattern. Working with a functional medicine practitioner is key in developing a personalized plan for mood support.
Effects Of Amino Acids And Neurotransmitters
When you think about mood, you might think about neurotransmitters. As you’ll see hormones, neurotransmitters and mood are closely connected.
What are neurotransmitters? Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that signal between nerve cells. Neurotransmitters are made from amino acids (or are amino acids themselves), the building blocks of protein that we obtain through food or via amino acid supplements.
There are different types of neurotransmitters, including inhibitory neurotransmitters that calm the nervous system and excitatory neurotransmitters that increase nervous system function. Ideally, these are balanced for a balanced mood.
Let’s look at some specific examples of neurotransmitters function:
GABA – Gamma-aminobutyric acid is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter that the body makes from the amino acid glutamine. Glutamine is found in dietary proteins including lentils, soybeans, eggs, dairy and animal foods. Progesterone promotes GABA production that helps you to feel calm and relaxed.
Serotonin – Serotonin is your happy neurotransmitter. As mentioned above, estrogen supports serotonin production. Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan, found in protein-rich foods such as beans, tofu, lentils, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dairy and poultry.
Dopamine – Dopamine is another neurotransmitter you may be familiar with. It interacts with testosterone and increases motivation and drive. The amino acid tyrosine is the precursor to dopamine that we obtain from the diet by eating many of the same protein-rich foods including milk, cheese, beans, nuts, seeds, fish and meat.
Now that you can see how mood, hormones and neurotransmitters are linked it makes sense that the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause and menopause may trigger changes in our mood. If mood swings feel extreme, functional medicine has a lot to offer and supporting hormonal balance is a great place to start. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series where I’ll discuss a functional medicine approach to mood challenges.
Fernstrom J. D. (1994). Dietary amino acids and brain function. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 94(1), 71–77. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7903674/
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