Hormonal disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hyper and hypothyroidism, and adrenal insufficiency trigger various observable physical symptoms. But, did you know that a hormonal imbalance can also affect the mind? Learn more about some hormones and their effect on our brain and cognition.
What is Cognition?
Before we start talking about specific hormones and their effects on our brain, let’s first define cognition.
Cognition refers to the brain’s ability to process information. It’s composed of many facets, including memory storage, recall, learning, thinking, and problem-solving. People who have problems in their cognitive functions may experience difficulties in performing their daily activities.
For instance, people who have progressive Alzheimer’s disease may one day need someone to take care of them as they might forget how to do simple tasks, such as bathing and meal preparation.
Please note that many factors affect our cognitive functions, including stress, environment, aging, lifestyle, and of course, genetics. Interestingly, numerous studies revealed that even hormones could influence our brain and cognition.
So, how can a hormonal imbalance affect the mind?
A growing number of studies suggest that the sex hormone estrogen can act as a neuro-protector that positively influences certain cognitive functions like memory.
Come to think of it, estrogen therapy is a recommended treatment for post-menopausal women who experience a decline in their cognitive function. Likewise, researchers believe that it can also reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like dementia.
On top of these benefits, estrogen (together with progesterone) can also “stimulate” the growth of brain cells and promote neuroplasticity or the brain’s ability to form new connections or rearrange existing ones.
Low estrogen levels may lead to difficulty in concentrating and mood swings. In contrast, having too much estrogen may result in memory problems and altered sleep patterns.
Testosterone is one of the primary hormones responsible for the sexual and reproductive functions of men. However, the woman’s ovaries also produce small amounts of this hormone.
According to reports, testosterone helps strengthen the arteries and nerves in the brain and contributes to mental sharpness and clarity. Scientific investigations also show that this hormone is associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
An imbalance in testosterone can result in mood swings, depression, difficulty concentrating, and lack of motivation.
Can hormonal imbalance involving progesterone affect the mind? According to experts, yes, it can. After all, progesterone is nature’s “anti-anxiety hormone.” Moreover, it has the following functions:
- Supports GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid, a chemical that helps the brain relax.
- Protects the nerves
- Supports the myelin sheath, the layer covering the brain cells; myelin sheath insulates the neuron and promotes communication between nerves.
Therefore, it stands to reason that an imbalance in progesterone may result in symptoms like:
- Mood swings
- Memory loss
- Low sex drive
The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone, which regulates the body’s metabolic rate (energy use). Surprisingly, this hormone also influences the brain.
For one, researchers discovered that the brain scans of people who have low thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) show “overall decreased brain activity.” This can lead to memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and even psychosis.
On the other hand, too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) can make you feel “edgy.” Symptoms like restlessness, racing thoughts, memory problems, attention problems, and mania (elevated mood) may also occur.
Can hormonal imbalance concerning cortisol affect the mind?
Cortisol, better known as the “stress hormone,” functions to reduce inflammation and regulate blood sugar, metabolism, and blood pressure. Its levels naturally increase when we’re faced with a stressful situation; however, with prolonged stress, the brain may be exposed to excessive cortisol, which can damage the hippocampus-an important part for memory function.
Suffice to say, an imbalance in cortisol levels can lead to loss of emotional control, mental fog, and decreased ability to withstand stress.
If you have mental symptoms that hinder your ability to accomplish daily tasks and relate to people, don’t hesitate to consult your physician for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Learn more about the Common Signs of Hormonal Imbalance in Women here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.