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Hormones affect our mood throughout our lives. But what are they and how do they do it?

Our bodies are influenced enormously by hormones. The way we develop physically and our moods are controlled by them. Hormones are a chief component of who we are; but what exactly are they?

A hormone is a substance produced by our endocrine glands that travel via our blood to organs and tissues in our body. There are many hormones made in the body that have a biological effect on us. These range from how we develop and grow through to cognitive function and mood.

Hormones affect us all although every one of us is different and so can be affected in slightly differing ways. They are a complex network that skilfully shapes the way our bodies react from letting us know when it is time to sleep to kick-starting puberty. Hormones influence every single stage of our lives.

Toddler tantrums

A parent may recognise hormones in their child’s development for the first time in the form of tantrums. Cortisol is the key player here. This is the ‘fight or flight’ hormone which is released as the child feels frustrated and stressed – usually as a result of the child not being able to manage or adequately express what they are feeling.

Puberty

As a child makes the journey towards adulthood, hormones play their part. Not only do teenagers have to deal with physical changes in their body but hormones can greatly affect their mood too. The hormone known as serotonin majors during puberty and it is often responsible for those mood swings.

Helping teenagers through their moods is sometimes as simple as making small changes to their lifestyle. It is important to take regular exercise, eat healthily and get enough sleep. Teenagers generally need around 9 hours of sleep per night.

See the NHS guide on how much sleep a child should have.

Teenage girls

Teenage girls will experience an increase in the hormone oestrogen which triggers their menstrual cycle. Oestrogen regulates periods, aiding the release of eggs from the ovaries. Levels of oestrogen naturally vary throughout a woman’s cycle and it is the rise and fall of this hormone that affects each female differently. Mood swings in teenage girls may be explained by the level of oestrogen currently in their body as oestrogen can directly influence the level of serotonin which in turn can affect mood.

Teenage boys

As with girls, teenage boys will experience a hormone increase during puberty which triggers changes in their bodies. For boys, it is the hormone testosterone. This is the chemical they have to thank for their ups and downs.

Dr Mark Winwood explains “lower levels of testosterone in the body may lead to an increased risk of developing depression. The male body can generally support changes in testosterone levels however if there is a large increase, which happens when such drugs as anabolic steroids are used, then this can certainly have a detrimental effect on mood resulting in symptoms such as aggression and paranoia.”

How to cope:

It can be challenging to live with the effects that hormonal changes can bring but leading a healthy lifestyle, with plenty of regular exercise, healthy eating and sleep may help to negate the downside of hormonal changes.

How adults are affected

Adults can be affected in different ways throughout their lives. It is different from males to females and life stages such as pregnancy and the menopause will have a greater hormonal impact. Both men and women can be affected by stress, however, and it is the hormone cortisol which triggers these feelings.

Cortisol’s important job is to keep the immune system functioning properly. It also helps to break down certain food groups such as fats and proteins, along with helping us to protect ourselves from perceived threats.

Dr Winwood tells us “although cortisol is crucial in keeping us safe if we mislead it into believing that non-life threatening situations are in fact threatening then it can be over-produced. This can result in feelings of anxiety, negativity and can make it difficult to concentrate or relax. If the body produces too much cortisol this can lead to a whole host of health problems.”

Excess cortisol from stress can affect the body’s immune system in a negative way, along with affecting sleep patterns and gaining weight. These factors can all have a negative effect on you and your mood.

Read more on how to deal with symptoms of stress

Adult men

Along with kick-starting puberty, testosterone continues to have an important effect throughout adulthood. Testosterone, or the lack of it, can have a direct effect on mood.

The level of testosterone within a man’s body naturally decreases by about one per cent each year after the age of 30.

A low level of testosterone may result in erectile dysfunction, a lower sex drive, a lessening of competitiveness and motivation and ultimately the potential to suffer depression.

Sleep patterns can also be affected which may result in less energy along with concentration levels.

Lower testosterone levels can lead to weight gain too as this is the chemical that helps to metabolise fat so with less of it the body has a propensity to put on weight.

There is treatment for a low level of testosterone. GP’s are able to prescribe medication as a tablet, patch or gel.

 Adult women

With women, hormone levels continue to change throughout adulthood. The way women feel during pregnancy and menopause has much to do with hormones – oestrogen and progesterone are the main players here.

Oestrogen and progesterone levels during pregnancy may cause mood swings in the expectant mother. They both play a part in preparing the body for the baby with progesterone being produced by the ovaries.

Fluctuating levels of oestrogen and progesterone may result in premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The rise and fall of these hormones can have a considerable effect on emotions. According to the NHS, this fluctuation can affect your mood by changing the body’s production of serotonin.

When less oestrogen is produced by a woman’s ovaries then her body is said to be going into menopause. Less oestrogen means the body stops producing eggs from the ovaries which in turn causes the menstrual cycle to stop. This reduction of oestrogen can result in many symptoms such as mood swings, hot flushes, trouble sleeping, vaginal dryness, reduced libido.

Find out more about the symptoms and treatment of menopause

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