Any woman who has ever suffered from PMS knows that your hormones play a big role in keeping you happy and balanced. There are several reasons for this.


Typically estrogen is high during the first half of the cycle (the follicular phase), and then after ovulation, progesterone predominates (the luteal phase). Then before the period begins, both hormones are supposed to decline together. Since progesterone helps to tonify the endometrial lining just in case you get pregnant, when progesterone drops down, the lining sheds, and that’s why you bleed.

If your estrogen drops too low, this can also lead to lower serotonin than usual at the synaptic cleft (the junction between neurons where the receptors are)—and, of course, serotonin is the “happy” neurotransmitter. It also increases the activity of the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase, which increases the production of serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan.

Estrogen also decreases the functioning of the enzyme MAO, which breaks down the catecholamines (dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine)—and thus, adequate estrogen means you have more of these neurotransmitters to go around. Catecholamines, when in balance, are the neurotransmitters associated with joy and excitement

What this means: right before and during your period, estrogen is low. Therefore, serotonin and the catecholamines can be lower than usual too. This can make you depressed.


Again—both estrogen and progesterone decline before your period, and remain low until you stop bleeding.

In theory, estrogen and progesterone should decline together at about the same rate, but that doesn’t always happen. That is because estrogen has to go through the liver to get a side group added onto it in order to make it water soluble before it gets eliminated, while progesterone usually gets turned into cortisol (the main stress hormone). If the liver is backed up, if the estrogen levels are super high, or if the gut flora is out of balance, progesterone plummets faster than estrogen does. This leads to too much estrogen relative to progesterone, and/or too little progesterone outright.

Progesterone increases GABA receptor activity—one of the calming neurotransmitters, too little of which is often associated with generalized anxiety. It also increases MAO activity (that enzyme responsible for breaking down catecholamines). Remember how I said catecholamines in balance enable you to experience joy and excitement? Well, too much of them causes the overthinking brand of anxiety—you know, the kind that keeps you up at night worrying about your life and solving all the world’s problems. Progesterone helps knock down those catecholamines to a more manageable level.

But if you have too much estrogen and not enough progesterone, you might have too many catecholamines, and also not enough GABA stimulation. This can make you anxious, and also keep you from sleeping.


As you can see from the diagram of adrenal hormones below, progesterone (the main hormone that counteracts estrogen) is a precursor in the adrenal glands for both cortisol and another adrenal hormone, aldosterone (the one responsible for blood pressure changes). Remember, the adrenals are the glands that help you to deal with stress.


When you’re short on progesterone, you won’t have enough progesterone to make adequate cortisol either. Since cortisol (among other things) is the “stress tolerance” hormone, this means you’re likely to have a short fuse.

Your adrenals also produce a hormone called DHEA.  This is the precursor for both the three estrogens (estrone, estradiol, and estriol) and testosterone. DHEA is a secondary source of estrogens for women (at least until menopause) and a primary source of testosterone for women. Since the ovaries aren’t producing sex hormones during your period, the adrenals pick up the slack—unless they can’t.

DHEA and cortisol have the same parent (cholesterol, see above), and if your adrenals are overworked, they won’t be able to make enough of either one.


If you have issues with mood swings during PMS, I’d recommend checking out my suite of hormone balancing products. Specifically, look at Chaste Tree, DIM, and progesterone (see below). If you have issues with irritability during PMS, I’d recommend checking out my suite of adrenal support products.

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