Come on, Get Happy!

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    Think of it as the thermostat of the body.


    Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or a chemical produced in the brain and distributed throughout the body, explains Stephen Strakowski, a medical doctor and chair of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati Hospital.


    Serotonin sets the “tone” for overall brain functions, Strakowski says. As a neurotransmitter, serotonin helps to relay messages from one area of the brain to another. Because of the widespread distribution of its cells, it is believed to influence a variety of psychological and other body functions.


    Of the approximately 40 million brain cells, most are influenced either directly or indirectly by serotonin. This includes brain cells related to mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, and some social behavior. When serotonin levels are too low, people can become impulsive or even violent. Conversely, when levels are too high, people experience a high.



    Hormonal imbalances can greatly affect serotonin levels, too. Dr. Bruce Worrell of the Center for Optimal Vitality in Mason treats women daily with irregular hormonal levels. His practice specializes in holistic therapy, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in particular.


    In order to understand the link between depression and hormonal imbalance, you should start with a look at depression. Depression is more than feeling blue. In fact, many people experience physical symptoms: headaches, back pain, muscle aches, chest pain, digestive problems, exhaustion and fatigue, sleeping problems, change in appetite and weight, and dizziness or lightheadedness.


    The body needs the right amount of estrogen to make serotonin, which, in turn, lessens depression. The amount of estrogen in a woman’s body at any given time fluctuates. Estrogen and testosterone are secreted in pulses, which vary from hour to hour and even minute to minute. Hormone release varies between night and day and from one stage of the menstrual cycle to another.


    Rightly or not, women are often seen as being under the influence of their hormones. As a result, they are said to be subject to hormonal “tides” or severe mood swings.


    There are many reasons why estrogen levels fall, including hypopituitarism, pregnancy failure, perimenopause, menopause, polycystic ovarian syndrome, anorexia nervosa and extreme exercise or training. Symptoms of low levels include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, sagging breasts and/or loss of breast fullness, mental fogginess, depression, changes in mood and decreased sense of sensuality and sexuality.



    “When levels are too low, depression can set in,” Worrell says.


    Levels can be controlled by both natural and unnatural means. Natural substances like chocolate and the supplement St. John’s Wart have been known to affect levels, although effects have not been clinically proven.


    “You can try it, but if it doesn’t work, try something else,” Worrell suggests.


    Overall, Strakowski advises sound health practices to affect change. Exercise, a proper diet and getting enough sleep are the safest ways. These habits are intertwined and affect natural endorphins that promote a positive mood.


    Stress is a major factor in hormonal imbalance, Worrell says. Reducing the amount of daily stress can do wonders for your overall well-being as well. Other factors that may affect hormone production include: nutritional deficiencies, exposure to toxins, endocrine disorders, sleep disorders, lack of sunlight and certain prescription and over-the-counter medications.


    When the situation calls for a more drastic measure, it’s easy to yearn for a “quick fix.” The most common unnatural means is to take an antidepressant, Strakowski says. Many women turn to these “happy pills” to positively affect mood.


    Be wary of labels that offer an instant cure. This approach is short-term, only treating the symptom, not the disease, Worrell says. Depression is often a symptom of a lack of estrogen, so the focus should be directed on the latter.


    1108SENSIBLE.gif Many women who feel lethargic and lack motivation for daily tasks are mistakenly diagnosed with depression, he says. When prescribed with an antidepressant, many women feel numb, like a shell of themselves.


    “Many women come to me saying, ‘I don’t feel like the person I used to be,'” Worrell says.


    The medications seem to only numb the pain, not address the root problem. Worrell finds once his patients are properly diagnosed with hormone imbalances, their overall well-being improves.


    To treat this condition, Worrell suggests hormone replacement therapy. Bio-identical hormones are identical in structure and function to the hormones naturally produced in our bodies. They are hand compounded and plant derived, unlike synthetically produced pharmaceutical hormones. They are biologically identical to the human forms of estradiol and testosterone. Essentially, the body is given back what it can no longer produce naturally. This type of therapy has been documented and researched in medical journals since 1939.


    Worrell believes bio-identical hormones are the only choice for helping women reinvigorate their lives without the unfavorable effects of the more traditional HRT treatment options. In essence, your body wants what it originally was designed to have. Bio-identical, natural, subcutaneous pellet therapy is the only HRT option that will reestablish a normal hormonal process in your body.


    Still, there’s hope for the 20- and 30-somethings out there. Hormonal imbalance typically affects middle-aged women. Worrell says he typically treats women between 45 and 55.


    Before taking serious measures like HRT, Strakowski advises a consultation with a doctor for further questions about serotonin and mood. Credible health Web sites, like, are also useful tools.


    See the Center for Optimal Vitality’s Web site for more information about hormone replacement therapy.


    Photo: Neysa Ruhl Photography

    Location: The McAlpin

    Model: Antoinette “Toni” Green of New View Management Group, Inc.

    Makeup Artistry: Rebecca Long

    Hairstyling: Shay Mendenhall, of Posh Salon, (513) 821-8999