As women age our bodies betray us – thinking becomes muddled, insomnia hits, and the circulatory system goes haywire. Hot flashes, mood swings, and energy dips become the norm. With the drop in estrogen, anxiety may even rear its ugly head. Through no fault of our own, we find ourselves in the midst of a full-scale assault.
And it isn’t pretty. Some even struggle with similar symptoms at a very young age with monthly hormone surges wreaking havoc on otherwise peaceful lives.
The hormone experience overwhelmed me as a teenager, opening the door to a 9-year addiction. I remember one of my doctors talking about a connection between eating disorders and serotonin; ironically, the self-destructive behavior associated with eating disorders appeared to boost serotonin levels! Know what else does? Sugar. (This may help explain the monthly cravings.)
When estrogen levels decrease in middle age, serotonin does as well (serotonin exerts its major effects on the parts of the brain responsible for controlling mood, appetite, sexual desire and performance, sleep, memory, learning, social interactions and temperature regulation). Yikes! And while sugar may have been an effective short-term solution, it is not the answer for ongoing hormonal issues. I have been on a quest these last several weeks to make the most of this very unpleasant hormonal season – after all, it is extremely difficult to live with intention when you are not feeling your best. Here is what I have discovered:
1. Exercise produces AND releases serotonin. Adding a simple daily walk to your routine can help you feel more energized, particularly when done outside (see #2).
2. Bright light increases serotonin levels. Leave the sunglasses at home when spending time outdoors because the light needs to travel through your eyes to increase serotonin. Consider using a light box with an output of 10,000 lux on cloudy days and during the winter months (this has the added benefit of reducing insomnia when used properly).
3. Add a Vitamin B-complex supplement to your diet. I found this one HERE with folic acid. Vitamin B-6 helps convert tryptophan to serotonin and folic acid helps your body manufacture it.
4. Take a Vitamin D supplement. A growing body of evidence suggests that Vitamin D regulates the enzyme that converts tryptophan into serotonin.
5. Reflect on happy memories and experiences. Studies have shown that thinking happy thoughts can increase serotonin levels.
Be sure to consult your physician before adding light therapy or vitamin supplements if you are currently taking antidepressants (SSRIs – serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) so as not to interfere with the medication. While we may be at the mercy of our aging bodies, we can effectively arm ourselves for battle.
Making the most of each and every season. 🙂