How Sex Hormones Act on the Brain
What many people don't know (although they experience this all the time) is that sex hormones act on the brain to directly affect mood and cognition.
For example, estrogen promotes the production of neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, making it a wonderful antidepressant (not to mention a great sleep aid).
In fact, there are receptors for all hormones, including estrogen in the brain. And estrogen in the brain seems to be neuroprotective, potentially reducing the risk of dementia1. But a little too much can cause breast, uterine, and cervical cancer. Getting the balance right is essential.
Progesterone is another important sex hormone. Levels drop in PMS and in perimenopause, leading to increases in anxiety and insomnia. There is evidence that natural, bio-identical (hormones that are identical to those produced by the body) progesterone reduces this anxiety and stress through its action on GABA receptors, the relaxing neurotransmitter2. It is your body's natural valium.
Testosterone is also a wonderful brain-boosting hormone improving mood, memory, motivation, and overall cognitive function. It drops significantly in women and men with age and has an enormous impact on quality of life3. But it drops mostly because of weight gain, lack of exercise, stress, and high-sugar diets–not because we are genetically designed to have less testosterone as we age.
The biggest reason I see low testosterone in men is insulin resistance. High belly fat drives insulin up and testosterone down. That's why men start looking like women and lose hair on their bodies, grow breasts, and have rounded, soft skin. It is because they are actually producing less testosterone and more estrogen. At the point that their estrogen levels exceed their testosterone levels, they sort of become women!
Correcting insulin problems by eating whole foods, cutting out sugar and flour, and doing some exercise to build muscle may naturally raise testosterone levels. And if you are a man, be sure you root for the winning sports team, because when your team loses, your testosterone levels drop4!
Especially with older men, I find that giving them a little topical bio-identical testosterone helps them build muscle and bone, lose weight, relieve depression, overcome mood swings5, improve memory and concentration6, and recover sexual function7. Even women benefit from the use of bio-identical testosterone.
Hormone replacement therapy must be carefully administered under a doctor's supervision after adequate testing. I strongly advocate the use of "nature made" molecules to support normal function, rather than "new to nature" or man-made substances, which often have many unwanted and dangerous effects.
That means supplementing your system with substances it already uses, like vitamins or minerals, is usually a better treatment than using medications.
This applies to hormones as well, which is why I only recommend "bio-identical" hormones. Used intelligently, at the right time, for the right patient, in the right dose, for the right amount of time, they can be lifesaving.
But 80 percent of the time simply changing your diet and lifestyle, detoxifying, addressing stress, and rebalancing all the other seven Keys to UltraWellness health will help you regain balance without taking hormones.
To find out more about how sex hormones affect your mood, memory, and behavior and what you can do to balance them, see Dr. Hyman's new book, The UltraMind Solution.
- Osterlund MK, Witt MR, Gustafsson JA. Estrogen action in mood and
neurodegenerative disorders: estrogenic compounds with selective properties–the
next generation of therapeutics. Endocrine. 2005 Dec;28(3):235-42.
- Pluchino N, Luisi M, Lenzi E, Centofanti M, Begliuomini S, Freschi L,
Ninni F, Genazzani AR. Progesterone and progestins: effects on brain,
allopregnanolone and beta-endorphin. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol.
2006 Dec;102(1-5):205-13. Epub 2006 Oct 18. Review.
- Maggi M, Schulman C, Quinton R, Langham S, Uhl-Hochgraeber K. The
burden of testosterone deficiency syndrome in adult men: economic and quality-of-life impact.
J Sex Med. 2007 Jul;4(4 Pt 1):1056-69. Links
- Bernhardt PC, Dabbs JM Jr, Fielden JA, Lutter CD. Testosterone
changes during vicarious experiences of winning and losing among fans
at sporting events. Physiol Behav. 1998 Aug;65(1):59-62.
- Sternbach H. Age-associated testosterone decline in men: clinical issues
for psychiatry. Am J Psychiatry. 1998 Oct;155(10):1310-8. Review.
- Beauchet O. Testosterone and cognitive function: current
clinical evidence of a relationship. Eur J Endocrinol. 2006
- Wu CY, Yu TJ, Chen MJ. Age-related testosterone level
changes and male andropause syndrome. Chang Gung Med J. 2000
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