Role of hormones in your brain health


Do your mood and energy swing up and down? Do you crave salt or sugar? Are you overweight and putting on more and more belly fat? If you are a woman, do you have a premenstrual syndrome or painful or heavy periods? Are you depressed? Do you sleep poorly? Do you have thinning hair, dry skin, or feel sluggish in the morning? Do you have to live on coffee in the morning and a few glasses of wine at night just to wake up, and then calm down every day on most days? This is because you are out of harmony with your natural biological rhythms. Small molecules or messengers (hormones) in our body that we depend on to keep us in balance are running haywire.

Your hormones are produced and controlled by the endocrine glands. Command or the control center of all endocrine glands happens to be located in your brain. They are the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.

These glands send signals to various parts of the body to control:

  • Your stress response through your adrenal glands
  • Your blood sugar balance through your pancreas
  • Your thyroid hormone via your thyroid gland
  • Your sexual behavior, with functions through reproductive organs
  • Your growth, sleep. Mood and much more

This network of glands (the hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal, adrenal, thyroid, parathyroid, pancreas, ovaries and testes) both send and receive messages in a finely orchestrated symphony and have effects throughout the body.

The 3 big epidemics of hormonal problems are too much insulin, too much cortisol and adrenaline, and not enough thyroid hormone. These all interconnect and affect the major category of hormones- our sex hormones. Imbalances or disturbances in any of these interconnected systems can influence the way our brain functions and lead to everything from depression to dementia, anxiety to ADHD. lets understand the role of insulin, thyroid and sex hormones play in your mood and brain function.

Insulin– Consuming highly processed and refined carbohydrates, and sugary foods promotes high levels of insulin. Over consumption of such foods over a prolonged period can cause insulin resistance. It’s when the cells get resistant to the hormone insulin and do not process glucose. If your waist to hip ratio is more than 1.0, you may be dealing with insulin resistance. People with insulin resistance are 3-fold at the risk of developing depression, cognitive decline, memory impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s. Balancing blood sugar and reversing insulin resistance are all within our reach with some interventions like optimal nutrition, sleep, stress, and maintaining blood sugar levels.

Thyroid– Thyroid gland is sensitive to multiple influences like your diet,  lifestyle, environment, all of which influence its function. As our food environment has become more toxic and our exposure to pollution, petrochemical and industrial waste, and heavy metals toxins have increased, our thyroid problems have also increased. It seems that thyroid hormone is critical for helping the brain make new brain cells, particularly in the hippocampus, which is responsible for mood and memory. Low-thyroid hormone levels reduce the function of serotonin receptors, which leads to depression. Low thyroid also affects cognitive function, memory, and slowed mental processing. Getting a proper thyroid treatment can help improve areas of mental health.

Sex hormones– These can become unbalanced in both men and women. Estrogen levels increase, especially from the age of about 30-50, and progesterone levels decrease, testosterone levels drop off in men and women, leading to a loss of energy, depression, and low sex drive. Many things promote this imbalance in hormones, such as high sugar or processed food diets, refined carbohydrates, caffeine, stress, and dairy. Hormones in the food supply in dairy products and meat, and estrogen like toxins from pesticides, plastics, and pollution. Exercise also helps keep hormones in balance, if you don’t get enough of it, they will get out of balance. Alcohol damages the liver and prevents it from excreting excess estrogen, yet another factor that influences hormonal imbalance. In addition, constipation and imbalances in the gut bacteria, can lead to the reabsorption of estrogen from the gut back into the bloodstream, even after the liver has tried to get rid of it. When hormones are out of balance, a lot of functions in the body can go haywire.

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Functional Nutritionist & Functional Medicine Practitioner

Smriti is a leading Health Coach and Functional Medicine Practitioner, based out of Gurgaon, India.