Hormones and depression can go hand in hand. Hormones are chemical messengers, produced in various endocrine glands throughout the body. They influence the function of tissues and organs. When the body’s many hormones work together harmoniously, you function well, stay energized, and tend to feel “up.” However, even the smallest hormonal imbalance — meaning there’s too little or too much of a specific hormone in your bloodstream — can increase several possible undesirable effects, including depression.

Can a Hormonal Imbalance Cause Depression?

We know that hormones play an important role in regulating many of the body’s functions. They affect our growth and development, reproduction, metabolism, and more. We also know that hormone levels are in constant flux throughout our life. This is especially true during times like puberty, and for women, pregnancy and menopause. 

Various endocrine glands produce, store, and secrete these chemical messengers throughout the body. They ensure productive and balanced function and sustained vitality. If damage occurs to any of your endocrine glands, it can alter your hormonal levels, throwing them out of balance, and, possibly, negatively impacting your physical and/or mental health. 

While more research still needs to be done for us to truly understand the full relationship between hormones and depression, studies do suggest that hormonal imbalances might lead to onset or increased depression symptoms

How do hormones impact mental health?

When hormonal imbalances occur for any reason, your general outlook might shift. You also might begin experiencing mental health-related feelings of anxiety, sadness, depression, or stress.

Hormonal imbalance is believed to potentially contribute to several mental health conditions, including anxiety, chronic stress, depression, irritability, insomnia, mania, memory problems, mood swings, nervousness, and more. 

Adding to the likely impact is the near-constant hormonal fluctuation — sometimes they can go up or down daily. As a result, it’s not uncommon to have a mix of symptoms related to hormone imbalance — for example, not getting enough sleep can result in feeling unstable, which can contribute to anxiety or depression. 

“Hormones can impact mental health symptoms by exacerbating anxiety and depression symptoms. Getting support for your symptoms medically and from a licensed mental health professional can make a difference. You do not have to suffer alone.”

Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

What Hormones are Associated with Depression?

Imbalanced depression hormones can cause a variety of depressive symptoms like change in appetite, decreased pleasure in life, lack of or decreased sex drive, fatigue, feeling hopeless or worthless, indecisiveness, insomnia, lethargy, and more.  

There are dozens of hormones in the human body. While not all of them are known to regulate the mood and emotions, those that do include:

  • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
  • Adrenal hormones
  • Thyroid hormones
  • Progesterone
  • Testosterone
  • Estrogen

Let’s take a closer look at how a hormonal change might lead to depression or worsening depression symptoms.

Adrenal hormones

Cortisol is made by the adrenal glands and secreted in response to stress. This is why it’s commonly called the “stress hormone” and is a major factor in our fight or flight response. 

Cortisol is healthy in small doses, especially when needed to deal with stressful situations. Research has shown that elevated levels of cortisol can be linked and correlated to clinical depression. 

Estrogen

Both men and women need estrogen, which is an umbrella term for a group of hormones including estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Elevated levels of endogenous estrogen may boost your mood and help if you are wondering how to be happy again. However, low levels might cause hormonal depression, especially in women. Deficient estrogen levels are also associated with other symptoms including foggy thinking, hot flashes, poor memory, vaginal dryness, headaches, insomnia, and bone loss.

Testosterone

Despite it largely being associated with men, both biological sexes require testosterone for proper functioning. Low levels of this hormone can cause various symptoms, in both men and women, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Poor memory
  • Increased belly fat
  • Decreased body mass
  • Decreased muscle size and strength

Low testosterone levels may also lead to decreased bone mass, difficulty concentrating, decreased sex drive, and mood swings. Studies have shown that testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) can reduce depressive symptoms in some men. Note that though lower scores for depressive symptoms were found after TRT treatment, this was not the result in men who have major depressive disorder (MDD).   

Thyroid hormones

Your thyroid gland is hugely important as a hormone producer. It participates in the production of many hormones in the body, including neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These neurotransmitters are all involved with mood regulation. An imbalance of any one of them might lead to hormonal depression or a change in mood.

There’s been a known association between thyroid dysfunction and depression for some time. Research tells us that people who have thyroid disorders are much more likely to develop depressive symptoms. Thyroid function is also associated with mood abnormalities like emotion regulation as well as cognition. 

DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a naturally occurring hormone produced in the brain, sex glands, and adrenal glands. It’s fondly entitled The Mother of Hormones. One of its primary purposes is to lower levels of cortisol in the body. So, if you’re experiencing depression along with elevated stress levels, this hormone is vital.

For people with or without depression, DHEA can upregulate energy, improve mood, boost immunity, increase fat loss, and decrease resistance to insulin. Research shows that proper DHEA levels might positively impact depressive symptoms. 

Progesterone

When in balance with estrogen, progesterone can help decrease anxiety, calm the brain, support weight loss, balance blood glucose levels, alleviate edema, support bone growth, encourage restful sleep, improve cellular oxygen levels, increase sex drive, and reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. Studies have determined that progestins are likely a causal factor for clinical depression. 

Do I Have Depression or Is It a Hormonal Imbalance?

Understanding your hormonal fluctuation can be key in determining how to get diagnosed with depression as well as how to treat depression. Depression is a common, but treatable mental health condition that can get worse over time. Understanding your mental and physical health is essential in reaching optimal happiness and satisfaction in life.    

“Knowing that hormones can contribute to anxiety and depression is vital so you can get a thorough assessment from a licensed professional in order to address your concerns. Being able to track your symptoms can help you understand the pattern over time to evaluate how the shifts in hormones may be influencing your symptoms.”

Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

Conclusion

According to research, the go-to medications that are most standardly prescribed to treat major depression have limited efficacy. It’s estimated that only about half of people treated for major depression with medication will see an antidepressant response. Further, just about a third will actually have a complete remission of depressive symptoms.  

This is why it’s so important to consider other alternative therapies to help you remedy any hormonal imbalance that can be leading to hormonal depression. Healthy choices about self-care can go a long way toward easing a depressed mood or any other negative mood disorder.

Diet can have an incredible impact on your mood. Stay away from (or consume in moderation) saturated fats, sugar, and overly processed and packaged foods. Eat healthy fats, leafy green vegetables, and foods high in omega-3s for optimal brain and mental health benefits. Eating a diet of clean, natural, single-ingredient foods is particularly important because many of the hormones you need are created largely from nutrients derived from the foods you eat.

Exercise is extremely effective in alleviating depression symptoms. Regardless of the physical shape you’re currently in, there are exercises you can do, anywhere, anytime, for free, that can have a huge impact on increasing energy levels and improving your mood.

Hydration is key. All of your body’s more than three trillion cells require constant hydration to function properly. Drinking plenty of water daily can result in more energy and a better overall mood.

Education is so important in treating depression. Learning your triggers can be an effective way to monitor and address depressive symptoms. Teach yourself to pay attention to your breathing and thoughts. This will allow you to stay in control of your feelings as they emerge. Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool for managing anxiety, depression, or any other mood disorder.

Living a healthy lifestyle and staying positive are especially important to keeping your hormones balanced. Taking care of yourself mentally and physically might help you begin to naturally experience less hormonal depression. Therapy for depression is also important to consider. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that has expert therapists willing to help anyone dealing with hormonal depression.