Serotonin Activity & Estrogen in Women

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Information and natural remedies for the treatment of depression.

Tess Thompson

There has been a long standing demand for controlled research into the etiology and treatment of depression in women, especially due to fluctuations in estrogen levels. A woman’s susceptibility to depression increases on attaining puberty and decreases after menopause. This indicates that hormones produced by sex glands play an important role in the relatively higher susceptibility of women to depression.

Estrogens are primary female sex hormones and are used in some oral contraceptives and estrogen replacement after menopause. Like all steroid hormones, estrogens easily spread out across cell membranes and interact with estrogen receptors within the cell. Besides reproduction, estrogens have a strong effect on other areas in the body. A low level of estrogen has been associated with mood swings in women. Small studies on serotonin activity in women indicated decreased serotonin activity in postmenopausal as compared to pre-menopausal women.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the regulation of depressive moods. Estrogen increases the sensitivity as well as the number of serotonin receptors, which increases serotonin activity in the central nervous system. It also increases the reuptake of serotonin and makes more of it available in the synapses. It is relevant to mention here that most antidepressants work in one way or the other to make more serotonin available to induce mood changes.

Throughout the reproductive years of a woman, estrogen levels fluctuate naturally. This fluctuation is more prominent during menopausal years with a significant decrease in level of estradiol, the most powerful female hormone.

A prolonged duration of menopause often leads to a significant drop in estrogens. Hormone replacement therapy is now considered as a necessary intervention in treating estrogen deficiency in menopausal, perimenopausal (menopause transition years) and to some extent in postmenopausal women. This may be done by administration of natural or bio-identical (similar in chemical structure as human hormones) or drugs that artificially boost levels of estrogens.

There are certain disadvantages of natural as well as artificial exogenous hormone replacement. None of the natural endogenous hormones have sufficient bioavailability when administered orally. Most of them do not remain intact after the first hepatic pass. Synthetic progesterone analogues, on the other hand, are suspected carcinogens.

There is little doubt that women undergo immense hormonal changes during a lifetime, which can adversely affect their overall emotional wellness. Finding answers in natural hormonal replacement may not provide the desired results. There are certain foods and herbs that have an affect on estrogen metabolism. There are foods that are excellent sources of natural plant estrogens and also those that inhibit estrogen. Knowing how to manage your diet during menopausal years will go a long way in managing emotional changes during menopause and post menstrual syndrome.

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