Menopause             -             Depressed or hormonal

Depression is one of the conditions of our era. People born since 1945 are 10 times more likely to suffer from depression than those born before. Women are more likely than men to suffer from depression, with estimates ranging from 8 to 15% of women suffering it in some form over their lifetime.

The modern medical view is that depression is not an illness and that it rarely has a physical cause. It is commonly a natural response to certain types of emotional introspection that results in excessive dreaming. Among the symptoms that women report are:

                                                                           - Extreme tiredness, even on waking
                                                                           - Disrupted sleep, sometimes because of disturbing dreams
                                                                            - Difficulty focussing and concentrating
                                                                            - Feeling blue, worried and anxious
                                                                            - Waking early
                                                                            - Being irritable or having a short fuse
                                                                            - Significant weight loss or gain without changes in eating or exercise
                                                                            - Lack of interest in hobbies or other leisure activities

Hormonal imbalances are a feature of a womans reproductive cycle and most of us experience some monthly mood fluctuation that is related to it. For those who suffer from PMS, the week before a menstrual period will be an emotionally difficult one. As women enter the perimenopause, the levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone start to fall naturally. For women who have put off having a family until later in life, these problems can be particularly acute.

Why is this a problem? It is all about balance in our bodies. We have three main sex hormones – oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone. The balance of these three regulate a host of bodily functions from sleep to libido. Along with a host of other effects, an imbalance inhibits the bodies ability to manage stress and to experience positive moods. The relationship between stress and depression has been well documented, as has the connection between negative introspection and hormone imbalances. So it is no surprise to find that many of the symptoms of hormone imbalance are shared with depression. It is no wonder that many doctors fail to spot the warning signs and automatically begin with anti-depressants or psychotherapy.

Problems for women typically begin during the perimenopause, which can begin in the mid-thirties and can last for ten years. Unfortunately, the first hormone to be affected is progesterone and this is sometimes referred to as the happy hormone. As it’s levels drop symptoms such as agitation, fatigue, anxiety and a short temper can emerge. Women feel that they lack motivation, have low energy levels and low self-estime.

Of course this is happening at a time in their lives when bereavement, high levels of job stress, and relationship breakdown are common challenges. It is not surprising that doctors could see these as triggers for depression rather than hormone imbalance. However, much of depression is to do with styles of thinking, behaviour and interpersonal relationships. Hormone imbalance has a physical cause and needs a different treatment approach. Part of the problem lies in the fact that you cannot always diagnose a hormone imbalance by blood test alone. Other factors such as history of PMS and health during pregnancy need to be explored, but are sometimes overlooked.

Several factors can exacerbate the situation. Extreme weight loss plans are a bad for your health for several reason. They have been linked to problems with hormone levels. High protein, low carb regimes are the worst. Alcohol and caffeine also seem to make things worse.

Many people report success in using natural progesterone cream if they are not producing enough. This should not be confused with the chemically produced Progestin, which will not produce the same effect. Others swear by the results they get from herbal supplements, especially chasteberry. This extract is claimed to boost progesterone levels and so is used to treat hormone imbalances and PMS. There are conflicting claims abaout how effective supplements can be.

Many in conventional medicine turn to HRT for treatment. What – the menopause already, and an elevated cancer risk? To get over possible side effects, doctors are turning to bioidentical hormones. These occur naturally and are made from plant extracts. Results from treatments look promising at the moment.

No matter what the treatment, your starting point is a sound diagnosis. So make sure it really is depression before going down that route.

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