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.
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
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
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
Kellner, a member of the department of psychiatry and
psychotherapy at Hamburg University in Germany, says he believes that the body
may release ANP during a panic attack as a signal that everything is, in fact,
OK. It blocks the release of stress hormones and may tell the body to shut the
attack off. As a result, drugs that help the body produce ANP or some similar
hormone could be an excellent treatment for panic disorder and possibly other