Hormones are chemicals that send messages from the endocrine glands to various body cells. These chemical messengers influence growth, development, metabolism, reproduction, sexual function, and mood. Depression affects roughly 19 million Americans, and when it comes to causes of depression, three types of hormones can play a role.
When a sluggish thyroid doesn't manufacture enough hormones, the use of energy by the body slows. Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, and weight gain, all symptoms that can lead to depression.
For healthy function and hormone production, the thyroid requires iodine, a nutrient the body does not make. One way to ensure healthy iodine levels is to take a daily multivitamin containing 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance. Good dietary sources of iodine include fish, dairy products, and some types of seaweed.
Reduced estrogen levels make one of the key causes of depression in women. Studies have shown that serotonin and norepinephrine ─ neurotransmitters in the brain ─ promote positive mood and a sense of wellbeing. Estrogen plays a key role in enhancing the function of both of these chemicals. It's not surprising that reduced estrogen levels can lead to symptoms of depression in menopausal women or in women who have just given birth.
To deal with diminishing estrogen, many women turn to the herbal remedy black cohosh. In 2001, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reported that black cohosh may offer short-term benefits for menopausal hot flashes. Anecdotal reports suggest black cohosh also helps reduce night sweats, migraines, heart palpitations, vaginal dryness, and mood disturbances.
Studies show that depressed men often have low testosterone levels. Replacement therapy balances testosterone and improves mood in men, but the delivery system of transdermal gels and pellets sometimes proves messy. In addition, the treatment can result in the body's failure to make its own testosterone. Supplementary DHEA (a hormone that turns into testosterone) offers a viable alternative, and it can help men and women.
A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry examined the effects of DHEA on 22 male and female patients with major depression. Nearly half of the subjects experienced a 50 percent reduction in depression symptoms.
Nine Symptoms of Depression
Causes of depression vary, and some respond well to treatment. People should reach out to a physician or mental health practitioner if they experience five or more of the following symptoms over the course of one month:
- Low mood, sometimes expressed as irritability
- Loss of interest in activities
- Too much or too little sleep
- Chronic fatigue
- Extreme changes in appetite, whether greater or lower
- Ongoing feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Scattered thinking and problems with concentration
- Indecision or feelings of being overwhelmed
- Suicidal thoughts
Because some people experience side effects from taking iodine, black cohosh, or DHEA, it is important to check with a health care provider before engaging in a supplementary program.