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Health & Balance

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Hormones for Your Head

Mental Health Hormones

Balancing What's There

It's not just losses in natural hormones that can create problems. When the balance of your hormones is out of whack, helping restore this balance can go a long way toward restoring mental health.

For example, feelings of depression or anxiety may be one of the first signs that your thyroid (a gland in your neck that produces a hormone crucial for growth, development, and everyday function) is not working properly. An overactive thyroid can lead to anxiety and panic attacks, while an underactive thyroid can make you depressed. In fact, very minor reductions in thyroid hormone that don't have any important effect on your physical health may make you depressed. Taking medication that regulates your thyroid can eliminate these problems.

Hormones can also temporarily fall out of balance during certain points of a woman's menstrual cycle as well as right after having a baby. During both these times, women may suffer from depression and other mental health problems. Antidepressants have proven useful during these temporary bouts of the blues, but upcoming hormone therapies are showing promise and target the problem more directly.

Intriguing Possibilities

Probably what's most exciting is the potential role for hormone therapies in mental conditions not usually associated with hormone imbalances. The fact that hormone therapies work for some of these problems suggests that there is an as-yet-unknown role for hormones in other mental or emotional problems.

For addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or even food, it might be possible to block pleasure hormones that reward these behaviors. This strategy might make it easier for people to quit.

Hormone treatments might also help anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Here, so-called 'stress' hormones are the targets of treatment. These hormones are released when the body is under physical or emotional duress such as as physical illness or a fight with your spouse.

At the ISPNE conference, Michael Kellner, MD, presented results of his research with a hormone called ANP (for atrial natriuretic peptide). ANP is produced naturally by the body during a panic attack.

'It's a strange phenomenon that during a panic attack you do not have any activation of stress hormones,' says Kellner. 'Nobody knows why panic attacks last only a couple of minutes and then subside spontaneously.'

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