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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 13:23 EDT

Estrogen Influences Your Mood

January 23, 2012

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — Estrogen has a wide range of effects on the body and brain. The link between estrogen and emotion was first investigated over a century ago and showed that estrogen can improve mood.

During PMS approximately 75% of reproductive-age women report premenstrual mood swings or physical discomfort. Women commonly feel depressed or grumpy during this time and brain scans have shown a significant increase in activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex related to emotional processing premenstrually, even if a woman’s emotional responses are not noticeably different.

Understanding the relationship between estrogen level changes and cyclical mood disorders can provide a theoretical basis for improving female physical and mental health. Research shows that during pre-puberty, boys are twice as likely as girls to need psychotherapy. However, during post-puberty women are twice as likely to develop anxiety or depressive disorders compared to men. Women’s depressive disorders typically occur between the beginning of puberty and the age of 55, in accord with estrogen level changes. Researchers believe that about 95% of women have recurrent psychosis or a noticeable increase in negative emotions along with the fluctuation in endogenous estrogen level.

Estrogen expends influence on the central nervous system through an intricate system of physiology and psychology. It can affect important areas of the brain that control emotion and cognition. It also plays a role in changing emotional behavior by acting on the hypothalamus—pituitary—adrenal (HPA) axis. The genetic transcription of estrogen receptors can balance emotional behavior, and estrogen can influence emotional processing through neuropsychological factors. It enhances the coding of emotion and recognition accuracy for facial expressions. Estrogen can also affect emotional arousal and change the intensity of emotional experiences.

For years clinicians have been aware of estrogen’s therapeutic potential for mood change. Estrogen replacement therapy is often used in postmenopausal women to improve mood, energy level, and general well-being. However, estrogen is not simply a natural “physiological protectant”. Some have even reported that estrogen administration causes fear and anxiety. Therefore, it is important to recognize that the impact of estrogen on emotion varies from person to person.

The authors believe that hormones do not exert any specific effect on the body. They regulate physical and psychological changes in numerous dimensions. Therefore, the influence of estrogen on women’s emotion is related to multiple components. If we achieve a complete understanding of the internal mechanisms related to emotional changes and estrogen, we can provide a support system to help address female emotional disorders.

A team from South China Normal University continues to carry out similar studies, as well as extending their research to include ovarian hormones and complex social recognition. They are using electroencephalograms and magnetic resonance imaging, along with behavioral and biochemical techniques to advance their research.

SOURCE: Science China: Life Sciences, January 22, 2012