Depression and Hormones
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Long before scientists knew about neurotransmitters, there were hormones to explain people’s behaviour. Today, it is becoming increasingly apparent that hormones and neurotransmitters are a highly intimate and interactive family. And when it comes to serotonin, the sex hormones are its most conspicuous bedfellows.
Testosterone antagonizes serotonin; it prefers dynamic dopamine. Oestrogen has mixed, hard-to-read feelings, though its affection for sanguine norepinephrine and its antagonism to serotonin-boosting vitamin B6 are clear.
Progesterone is one of the best friends serotonin ever had, a serotonin reuptake inhibitor and an inhibitor of serotonin breakdown all in one (Chouinard et al., 1987).
All these hormones have been used clinically in ways suggestive of their neurotransmitter effects: oestrogen to lift mood and, combined with progesterone, stabilize bipolar mood swings (Chouinard et al., 1987); progesterone to tame sex offenders and other violent criminals and (controversially) premenstrual syndrome; testosterone to put a tiger in the tank of both men and women (Newbold, 1975).
Too much of any one hormone can be as disturbing as too little (Baumel, 1995). High oestrogen levels, for example, promote obsessive-compulsive disorder in some women (Weiss et al., 1995). A careful balance of all sex hormones — preferably from well-tolerated natural sources such as phytoestrogen-rich foods (soybeans, flax seeds), natural micronized progesterone or the steroid hormone precursors DHEA and pregnenolone — seems to be the prescription with the most potential.
Baumel, Syd, Dealing with Depression Naturally (New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Publishing, 1995).
Chouinard, G., et al., “Estrogen-Progesterone Combination: Another Mood Stabilizer?” American Journal of Psychiatry, 144 (June 1987):826.
Newbold, H. L., Mega-Nutrients for Your Nerves (New York: Berkley Books, 1975).
Weiss, M., et al., “The Influence of Gonadal Hormones on Periodicity of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 40 (May 1995): 205-7.