The Role of Hormonal Changes in Cognitive Functions and Mood Throughout Life

Mood swings, depression, or frequent insomnia are reasons to check your hormones. Hormones control a person’s positive and negative emotions. A hormonal imbalance in the body can affect both physical and emotional well-being.

Hormones influence psychology and personality

Hormones are biologically active substances produced by the body. They regulate many vital processes. Hormones are mainly synthesized in the endocrine glands and enter the bloodstream. The blood carries them to target cells, where they exert their effects. Hormones influence various metabolic processes. They accelerate or slow down the absorption of substances. They maintain the balance between muscle, fat, and bone tissue. They ensure the growth and development of the body.

However, some hormones can act beyond the circulatory system. They penetrate the blood-brain barrier and work as neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (CNS). They transmit impulses through nerve cells, thereby influencing human behavior. The impact can be either constant or temporary. For example, the adrenal hormone adrenaline only briefly changes a person’s reactions. Normally, its level should quickly decrease after being released into the blood. In contrast, the levels of other hormones should be relatively stable. They are responsible for stress resistance, social contacts, mood, and more.

Symptoms of hormonal disorders

Hormone-neurotransmitters always participate in other important processes in the body. Imbalances affect more than just the emotional sphere; they impact overall health. The symptoms listed below are sufficient reason to visit an endocrinologist, undergo examinations, and possibly receive treatment.

  • Irritability and easy excitability.
  • Overall emotional instability and sudden mood swings.
  • Sleep disturbances, including nervous insomnia.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Distrust of others and excessive suspiciousness.
  • Poor social adaptation.
  • Tearfulness.
  • Apathy and depression.
  • Withdrawal.

Excessive aggression in girls and softness and compliance in boys (sex hormones).

Depression, including seasonal depression.

Along with such emotional disturbances, hormonal imbalances most often manifest with physiological signs:

  • Excessive body weight or, conversely, unnatural thinness.
  • Growth disorders.
  • Delayed sexual development.
  • Problems with the cardiovascular system, including strong heartbeat or arrhythmias.
  • Various types of edema.
  • Disorders of the gastrointestinal tract.

Sex hormones and their role in psychological health

Sex hormones are divided into male and female hormones. Their main task is the sexual maturation of the body and the development of secondary sexual characteristics. However, in addition to physiology, androgens and estrogens also influence personality traits. Despite the gender division, both female and male sex hormones are produced in any body. Therefore, the manifestation of traits uncharacteristic for a person’s gender may indicate an excess of the “opposite” hormones.

Androgens (especially testosterone) are responsible for masculine qualities. They contribute to the development of physical strength, confidence in one’s actions, and leadership. With elevated testosterone, a person may display aggressiveness, be prone to conflict, and easily succumb to provocations.

Estrogens (the most active being estradiol), on the other hand, influence the development of traits such as gentleness and compliance. This is partly due to the fact that female sex hormones can lower the level of thyroxine, a hormone whose excess causes irritability.

Adrenal hormones: dopamine and adrenaline

The adrenal glands are small paired glands that play an important role in shaping a person’s character and emotional reactions. They produce hormones that are important in this regard—dopamine and adrenaline.

Dopamine is responsible for the feeling of pleasure. It is essential for the brain’s “reward system,” which shapes a person’s preferences. The hormone is actively secreted when a person engages in something pleasant; the sensation is recorded in the brain, and later, this memory compels the person to return to the favorite activity. Dopamine helps us choose hobbies and determine our preferences in food, recreation, and more. It can help develop healthy habits, but it is also linked to addictions. As an adrenal hormone, dopamine is a precursor to norepinephrine, which in turn synthesizes adrenaline.

Adrenaline is a fast-acting hormone. It is released into the bloodstream in life-threatening situations, severe injuries, and during stress and emotional upheavals (both positive and negative). Adrenaline dulls the sense of fear, increases reaction speed and mental activity, and helps perceive the world more vividly. This is why these adrenal hormones often cause a conditional dependence—under the influence of adrenaline, people feel a surge of strength, improved mood, and euphoria. If there are not enough positive experiences in life, a person may provoke adrenaline release through extreme hobbies, various life-threatening situations, frequent quarrels, or even addictions.

Since adrenal hormones are produced under certain external conditions, a person can consciously use them to develop healthy habits. For example, both dopamine and adrenaline are synthesized during a favorite sport.

Other hormones: thyroxine, oxytocin, serotonin

Among other hormones acting as neurotransmitters, it’s important to note the following:

Thyroxine is one of the main hormones of the thyroid gland. Its high level provokes irritability, while a low level can cause apathy and depression. These emotions manifest even in infants with congenital thyroid disorders.

Oxytocin is a hormone of the hypothalamic-pituitary system responsible for tenderness and attachment. The greatest amount is produced during childbirth, and it forms the bond between mother and child. It also synthesizes when people have pleasant conversations, hug, or hold hands. Oxytocin plays a key role in the instinct to care for offspring and the willingness to sacrifice oneself. It’s also important in social psychology—with sufficient oxytocin levels, a person finds it easier to make contact, form friendships, and build long-term relationships.

Serotonin is the happiness hormone responsible for feelings of joy, good mood, vigor, and a surge of energy. Notably, it’s produced under the influence of bright light, so people who spend a lot of time outdoors are less prone to apathy and low mood. On cloudy days, serotonin production decreases, often leading to seasonal depression. At night, serotonin synthesizes into melatonin, responsible for the periodicity of sleep and wakefulness, influencing other hormones, and preventing premature aging. If there’s not enough “happiness hormone,” melatonin will also synthesize with disturbances. Therefore, a good mood is truly inextricably linked to health and longevity.

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