Estrogen is a hormone that circulates naturally in the body. It is responsible for the changes that occur in females during puberty. However, in excess estrogen appears to be linked to a number of physical and psychological conditions. In particular, high estrogen, or unbalanced estrogen, is linked to anxiety.
What Is Anxiety?
Medical News Today explains that anxiety is a term used to describe nervousness, fear and apprehension and worrying. When anxiety is mild, it can be very unsettling, but severe anxiety can be debilitating. There are several disorders with severe anxiety symptoms, such as generalized anxiety disorder, that affect how people feel and behave. Severe anxiety disorders also can even have physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, breathlessness, sweating, nausea and discomfort in the chest.
What is Estrogen?
Estrogen is a hormone that can be natural or synthetic. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, testes, placenta and perhaps the adrenal cortex. Estrogen is also found in plant sources, particularly soy. Estrogen is responsible for secondary sexual characteristics, which distinguish males from females, but it also takes part in the growth and maturation of long bones and regulates the course of the menstrual cycle.
Women are more than twice as likely to have anxiety then men, notes Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN nurse practitioner and co-founder of the Women to Women clinic in Maine. Anxiety is more common during the premenstrual part of the cycle, peri-menopause, which is the onset or beginning of menopause, and menopause, the cessation of menstruation. These events are characterized by fluctuating estrogen levels, as well as fluctuating progesterone. This hormone-related susceptibility to anxiety is evident also in women who experience severe anxiety when transitioning off hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, notes Pick. Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms of both perimenopause and menopause.
Progesterone has a connection to serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for mood, and it has a similarly soothing effect. When women approach menopause, the levels of both estrogen and progesterone fluctuate widely, which often amplifies anxiety and anxiety-related problems like insomnia, according to Women to Women.
The term "estrogen dominance" refers to having more estrogen the progesterone, and that these hormones are unbalanced. Estrogen dominance is common during perimenopause because during this time ovulating begins to cease and progesterone levels stay low. Estrogen dominance is believed to add to anxiety and even panic attacks, according to Women to Women.
Dr. James R. Phelps, author of PsychEducation.org, cautions that there is no simple way to explain exactly how estrogen and progesterone affects mood, although it is clear that they do. There are claims that too little estrogen leads to depression and too much estrogen results in mood and anxiety symptoms, which Dr. Phelps notes is an extreme simplification of the relationship between estrogen and anxiety.