Whether you’re a full-time mom or balancing both work and family responsibilities, you probably know what it’s like to feel burned out by a never-ending to-do list. At one time or another, most women grapple with the stress of trying to be everything to everyone. Probably due in part to their multifaceted roles in our fast-paced, modern world, women are twice as likely as men to experience depression. But it’s more than just that—a woman’s biology also increases her vulnerability to depression. Specifically, the profound hormonal fluctuations that occur during the menstrual cycle, during and after childbirth, and leading up to menopause can trigger depressive symptoms for many women.
Is Depression in Women Caused By Hormones?
The ovarian hormones estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol play a crucial part in a woman’s delicate hormonal balance—and these hormones also significantly influence neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin. Because women experience dramatic hormonal shifts on a monthly basis as well as at different stages in their lives, they are more susceptible to mood disruptions. On top of that, many women also suffer from underlying hormonal imbalances due to a poor diet, high stress, insufficient sleep, nutrient deficiencies, and more, which compounds depressed moods. Suboptimal levels of estrogen or progesterone and a cortisol level that rises too high or too low are commonly at the root of female depression—often in combination with genetic, environmental, and interpersonal factors.
There are three types of depression that occur only in women and are related to hormonal imbalance: premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), perinatal depression, and perimenopausal depression.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
It’s no secret that the week or two leading up to menstruation can be filled with undesirable symptoms for many women, such as mood swings, breast tenderness, bloating, back pain, headaches, and more. Mild to moderate discomfort is common at this time. But there’s also a more severe form of premenstrual syndrome called premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which triggers disabling physical and emotional symptoms such as anger, depressed mood, sadness and hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, appetite changes, panic attacks, and trouble sleeping.
Postpartum depression, which is a serious form of depression that occurs shortly after giving birth, is well known in our culture—but it’s also possible to feel depressed during pregnancy, as well as the entire first year after having a baby. While it’s normal to feel weepy, worried, and fatigued for a transient period of time after childbirth, perinatal depressive episodes affect 7 to 13% of pregnant women and 10 to 15% of postpartum women. The levels of estrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body during and after pregnancy go through rapid shifts, which can wreak havoc on neurotransmitters—especially in someone with existing hormonal imbalances.
In the years leading up to menopause, women begin to experience chaotic hormonal changes that bring about symptoms such as erratic menstrual cycles, hot flashes, disrupted sleep, and you guessed it—depressive symptoms. Research shows that women in perimenopause, compared to younger women, are two times as likely to suffer from major depressive disorder and four times as likely to have depressive symptoms.
BodyLogicMD physicians work to uncover the issues at the root of depression to determine if it’s hormonally triggered—rather than handing out one-size-fits-all medications that simply mask underlying dysfunction. In almost all cases, out-of-whack hormones are playing a role and must be addressed in order to find lasting relief—and frequently, this allows patients to safely wean off antidepressants. Once hormone levels have been measured, a BodyLogicMD physician can prescribe a bioidentical hormone therapy program to begin balancing hormone and stress levels, as well as proper nutritional counseling, supplements, exercise, and stress-relieving techniques. Contact BodyLogicMD today to schedule a consultation and start living life unhindered by depression.