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How your hormones impact anxiety, sleep, mood & migraine

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Your hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. They affect many different processes in your body, including your :

  • metabolism and appetite

  • mood

  • growth

  • body temperature

  • sexual function & desire

  • heart rate

  • blood pressure

  • sleep-wake cycles

  • detoxification

  • and as we know, also migraine

Hormones and a balanced microbiome are really the base of your wellbeing and overall health! Even if you are taking all the supplements, exercising beautifully and eating a balanced diet, you can still feel unwell and get really ill if your hormones and microbiome are not balanced - that’s exactly what happened to me!

Now when I talk about “hormones” I’m not just referring to the usual suspects estrogen, progesterone & testosterone, but also insulin, cortisol, lutenizing hormone, prolactin, oxytocin, leptin, ghrelin, thyroid hormones, melatonin, serotonin - these are all hormones, but are often not considered when we talk about “hormones”.

Hormones & migraine

The attention for migraine is especially on your hormone estrogen: when estrogen fluctuates, it triggers contractions in your blood vessels that can set off migraine.

  • When estrogen levels fall, you will also produce less serotonin and the sensitivity of triptan target receptors decreases, which could explain the reduced response to triptans in menstrual migraine.

  • Plus, when your estrogen levels fall, it will increase the susceptibility to prostaglandins aka inflammation. This can cause inflammation in the brain by promoting the release of neuropeptides including CGRP.

  • But a drop in estrogen also impacts the trigemionovascular system and will make your facial and scalp nerves more sensitive to pain!

So you see that your menstrual cycle and how much your estrogen levels fluctuate throughout your cycle are very much linked to migraine. Overall, women have increased sensitivity to pain before their menses and that’s due to low estrogen levels at that time.

Now you might think that your estrogen might be too low and cause migraine, but it’s actually the contrary: what happens during your cycle leading up to your menses is the crucial time and here the issue is often that either estrogen is too high or that progesterone is too low to balance off the estrogen. So it’s actually an excess of estrogen during your cycle that will cause a too abrupt fall of estrogen before menses and provoke the migraine.

When you are in your 40s, things don’t get easier as your ovaries (slowly) stop producing progesterone. Progesterone and estrogen keep each other in balance and if your progesterone declines, not only do you have more anxiety, sleep issues and PMS, but you can also get hormonal migraine.

Hormones & sleep

How well you sleep has an impact on your hormone production and then your hormones also influence your ability to sleep (hello perimenopause and menopause when cortisol, progesterone & estrogen wreak havoc with your sleep…)

Getting adequate sleep is important for regulating a number of hormones, including:

  • cortisol

  • estrogen and progesterone

  • hunger hormones, like insulin, leptin, and ghrelin

  • melatonin

  • thyroid hormones

  • growth hormones

This is how your circadian rhythm works:

Melatonin is your sleep hormone that will tell you it’s time to close your eyes and very much impacts your ability to fall asleep. During the night, your body will keep cortisol low (if you’re eating too many carbs during the day, chances are that cortisol will wake you up at night and keep you awake). In your deep sleep phase, your body is producing growth hormones that’s important for cell repair and growth, aka anti-aging).

According to a 2016 study, growth hormones affect the regulation and metabolism of glucose, lipids, and proteins in the body.

Then when it gets to the early morning, your cortisol levels will slowly rise. Cortisol peaks in the morning and makes you jump out of bed and get ready for your day. That peak of cortisol sets in motion all your other hormones, including your thyroid and estrogen.

If your cortisol is too high, it can slow down your thyroid hormone production and therefore affect your metabolism (weight gain, hair loss, feeling cold…).

In these waking hours bright light exposure is crucial for your melatonin production (this happens in your pineal gland) for the night. So if you don’t get enough time outside or light exposure, it may negatively affect your melatonin production. The same goes for bright lights in the evening: computer or phone screens or TV will all stimulate your brain and impact your circadian rhythm. I’m wearing blue light blocking glasses in the evening to prevent that.

Your sleep quality also affects your appetite and cravings - you might have noticed that you crave junk food when you haven’t had much sleep the night before…

Poor quality sleep disrupts your hormones leptin, ghrelin & insulin, which are responsible for your:

  • sense of fullness

  • hunger or appetite

  • blood sugar regulation

  • fat storage

So poor sleep can lead to insulin resistance and weight gain, in particular around your middle. Even one night of bad sleep can disrupt your insulin levels. And when you’re craving that junk food is actually the time to stay away from it and go for a low carb day with plenty of veggies and quality protein.

Hormones & mood & anxiety

Progesterone is good for mood because it converts to a neurosteroid called allopregnanolone which calms GABA receptors. Progesterone’s calming neurosteroid effect is why times of high progesterone (luteal phase and pregnancy) can cause sleepiness. That’s also why in perimenopause and menopause, when progesterone production declines, anxiety and low mood increase.

By the way, synthetic progesterone such as levonorgestrel, drospirenone, and norethisterone have all been linked with anxiety and depression.

Anxiety & mood are also impacted by high cortisol as it diminishes the output of serotonin which is our happy and relax hormone or neurotransmitter. When serotonin levels are low, we get nervous and anxious. High levels of cortisol will also diminish the output of progesterone.

So you see that:

  1. Lifestyle and diet can have a big impact on your health and hormone balance. As a reminder: we need to be able to ABSORB our nutrients, especially the proteins and fatty acids that we consume which are the building blocks for our hormone production. Go back to my article on healthy vs unhealthy fats here.

  2. Stress (hello cortisol) is still one of the biggest factors that will impact your digestion, microbiome & hormone balance

  3. Your hormones rule your mood, energy, feeling of pain, metabolism, appetite, aging…. If you’re feeling off, chances are that your hormones are responsible and not that you are crazy

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