Hormones and the brain

Cortisol – the ‘stress hormone’ is essential for life.

Cortisol is essential for life: but it (and stress) can also damage the brain.

Levels of cortisol in the blood fluctuate. They are highest in the morning; there is a further surge about 30 minutes after a person wakes, but then a steady decline throughout the day so that, by nightfall, levels may be almost zero.  But cortisol reacts strongly to a stress, whether this be physical (exertion, an illness ) or psychological (a threat or a demand that is seen to be difficult to handle).

Oxytocin – the Love Hormone

In a breakthrough study from Stanford University School of Medicine, researchers have shown that oxytocin — known as the “love hormone” because of its important role in the formation and maintenance of mother-child bonding and sexual attachments — is actually involved in a much broader range of social connections. The researchers discovered that oxytocin released through any type of social connectivity triggered the release of serotonin. In a chain reaction, the serotonin then activated the ‘reward circuitry’ of the nucleus accumbens resulting in a happy feeling.

Oxytocin regulates social interaction, memory, attachment, and the reading of emotions; it acts as a buffer against social stress, and is critical in building trust. It enhances the motivation to initiate and sustain social contact by dampening social stress, and promotes the initiation and maintenance of close social contact, which is essential for learning about the mental states of others.

Impaired functioning of the oxytocin system, on the other hand, contributes to mental disorders

Testosterone and oestrogen  – the Sex Hormones

Testosterone and oestrogen drive touchdowns and boost brainpower, but they work their magic with a selectivity that science is only beginning to understand.

For men and women alike, sex hormones (including testosterone, produced by the testes, and oestrogen, from the ovaries) are power players in myriad human abilities and behaviours.

Language, cognition, libido, and health all fluctuate as hormone levels change.

Sex Hormone Fixes

Adjusting your hormones may rev everything from your mental faculties to your libido. But get the full facts before any do-it-yourself hormone shift.

Hormone Replacement Therapy: Prescription hormone replacement therapy, consisting of oestrogen and progesterone or oestrogen-only replacement, for women without a uterus, may help mood.

Testosterone for men: Supplements may give low-testosterone men a mood boost and increase their libido. Side effects range from thickened blood to enlarged prostate, but may be averted with monitoring.

Testosterone for women: May help a tanking libido recover after menopause. Testosterone and oestrogen therapy given together may be especially effective.

“Bioidentical” hormones: An alternative to traditional HRT, these nonpharmaceutical plant-derived oestrogens supposedly mimic the optimum female hormonal environment. But “bioidenticals” may be created without much regard to the way natural hormones are metabolized.

DHEA : This steroid precursor to testosterone and oestrogen declines rapidly after age 25. DHEA supplements are a popular, nonprescription way to supposedly rejuvenate hormones. But recent research concludes it has no anti-aging, nor mind- and strength-sparking benefits.

Phytoestrogens: Studies have found black cohosh relieves depression and anxiety better in menopausal women than Valium or Premarin. The plant contains phytoestrogens that bind to the oestrogen receptors and work much like natural oestrogen.

The Double Life of Women

The invisible turns of the reproductive cycle shape the everyday behaviour of women and men. A woman’s cycle influences not just her preference in a partner, but her personality as well.

Over the past decade, evolutionary biologists and psychologists have uncovered abundant evidence that women do, in fact, provide clues to the timing of ovulation, the moment when an egg is released and ready to be fertilized. Though these changes are far subtler than those in other species, they have a powerful effect on women’s perceptions, preferences, and behaviour—and the reaction of others to her. Monthly shifts even affect men’s feelings and actions. Indeed, the invisible but influential turns of the reproductive cycle shape the everyday behaviour of us all.

Take, for example, women’s preferences in male partners. We may think that each woman has an unchanging “type”—but it turns out that women prefer quite different kinds of men depending on whether or not they are fertile. In the two days or so of the ovulatory phase—the time when women are most likely to become pregnant—they gravitate toward men with more “masculine” traits. That means a man who sports a leaner, V-shaped body, and a face with a squarer chin, straighter, heavier eyebrows, and thinner lips; one who speaks in a lower-pitched voice, and displays more aggressive, dominant behaviour. When a woman is in the follicular or luteal phases—during which the uterus sheds its lining and then builds it up again, and in which she generally cannot become pregnant—she prefers men with softer features, less-defined bodies, higher voices, and a gentler manner.

Recent research has proposed that women actually have two sexualities: one when they’re ovulating, and another during the rest of the month. These distinct modes emerge out of two competing reproductive goals. “Women want to get the highest-quality genes for their children,” and high genetic quality in a man is indicated by his degree of testosteronization—the extent to which the male hormone testosterone has affected his brain, his face, and the rest of his body.

Once she is pregnant or in the non-fertile part of her cycle, however, a woman’s aims do an abrupt about-face: She wants to secure the most generous and stable source of goods for herself and her offspring. Now the nice-guy provider starts to look appealing. “When women are in what we call the extended-sexuality phase, their preferences shift towards men who appear to have a willingness to share resources like food and protection with her and her children,”.

The monthly revolutions of women’s reproductive cycles may also help account for their heightened vulnerability to psychological disorders like depression and anxiety. Before puberty, psychiatric conditions are far more common in boys than in girls. But once the reproductive years begin, women become the more susceptible sex, and it’s believed that sex hormones account for much of this difference. Oestrogen and progesterone, which rise to their highest levels when women are ovulating, have anxiety-reducing effects, and the subsequent drop in the levels of these hormones may leave women more sensitive to stress than men. Although higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone generally give reproductive-age women some protection against psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia, the monthly hormonal “withdrawal” they experience seems to make them more vulnerable to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Melatonin –  The Sleep Hormone

There are a number of hormones in the body that influence sleep, but only one carries the nickname “the sleep hormone.” That’s melatonin. Melatonin is central to sleep, to our daily cycles of rest and activity, and to the regulation of the body’s biorhythms. Melatonin plays an essential role in keeping our bodies functioning on our best bio time. This, in turn, has broad effects on our overall health.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone the body produces naturally. Natural melatonin is produced primarily by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin has a daily biorhythm—levels rise and fall throughout the day and night, reaching their highest levels in the evening and falling to their lowest levels in the morning. This daily melatonin biorhythm is strongly tied to the 24-hour cycle of light and dark. This is a key reason why night-time light exposure can be so detrimental to sleep and to health.

How does melatonin work?

Melatonin production in the body is triggered by darkness and suppressed by light. The brain receives light and dark cues through the retina of the eye, which are then communicated along the optic nerve to the brain’s master bio clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. This bio clock controls the flow of melatonin and other hormones—as well as a vast array of other physiological processes.

When it’s dark, the SCN gives the go-ahead to the pineal gland to ramp up its production of melatonin. Typically, melatonin levels begin to rise significantly around 9 p.m., and peak during the overnight hours before falling to very low levels shortly before dawn. Melatonin stays low throughout the daylight hours, as other hormones rise to help maintain focus, energy, and alertness throughout the day.

The length of melatonin production shifts throughout the year, with shorter daily periods of melatonin production in the summer when days are longer, and longer periods in the winter, when nights are longer. Melatonin production decreases with age, which may contribute to increased sleep problems, as well as to overall aging and vulnerability to disease.

Disruptions in natural melatonin levels can go hand-in-hand with sleep problems.

Dopamine & Serotonin:

Dopamine and serotonin are both neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are released from the nerve cells and serve to transfer impulses from nerve cells to other body tissues like other nerve cells, muscles, and organs.

If you have you ever been addicted to a behaviour, such as shopping or gambling, you’ve lacked focus or motivation to complete a task, or you’ve suffered from depression, brain chemicals may be the cause. At the centre of these complex behaviours are two powerful neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. These naturally occurring chemicals in your brain help your body move fluidly, your mind stay calm and focused on a task, and help you to resist depression and other mood disorders. Their levels are affected by your lifestyle, and understanding how they work may help you improve your mood, concentration and health.

Dopamine plays an important role in controlling motor behaviour, the emotional reward, and behaviour motivation mechanisms. It regulates emotional responses, hormone secretion, and motoric actions related to reward sensations. Most types of rewards increase dopamine levels in the brain and cause satisfied feelings, which serves as motivation to perform the behaviour in the future.

Low dopamine levels are also associated with low motivation, vulnerability for addictions, and the addiction mechanism itself. The last has to do with the fact that many addictive substances (alcohol and drugs) and behaviours (shopping and gambling) increase dopamine levels in the brain temporarily, stimulating the feeling of satisfaction. This mechanism can force someone to use a substance again or repeat other addictive behaviour in order to re-experience that emotionally positive sensation, thereby playing a huge role in the recurring drug use that leads to addiction.

Serotonin regulates the functioning of the cardiovascular and endocrine systems and has an important role in regulating appetite, sleep, memory, mood, body temperature, and muscle contraction. About 90% of serotonin is found in the intestine, with the remaining 10% in the central nervous system. Low serotonin levels are associated with insomnia (sleepless nights), decreased empathy, anxiety disorders, memory and learning impairment, mood changes, and depression.

Abnormally high serotonin levels are not common, but do occur in people who are being treated for depression with medications (like SSRI’s) or supplements that increase serotonin levels. Common symptoms for high serotonin levels are sweating, elevated heartbeat, restlessness, mania, hot and cold flashes, and weight gain.

Vitamin B6  – its relationship to serotonin and dopamine – why is it so important?

The human body needs vitamin B6 to metabolize tryptophan, produce serotonin and dopamine, use steroid hormones properly and manufacture nucleic acids.

Humans do not produce their own vitamin B6, so we must get it from the foods that we eat. This vitamin is found in salmon, avocados, fortified breakfast cereals, bananas, spinach, chicken and potatoes.

The human body does not store vitamin B6. Instead, it uses what it needs and excretes the excess in urine. Therefore, humans must keep eating foods rich in vitamin B6 to prevent deficiency. Vitamin B6 has several functions in addition to metabolizing tryptophan; producing neurotransmitters and nucleic acids; and helping the body use steroid hormones. This vitamin is essential for helping the nerves function, maintaining normal blood sugar levels, making antibodies to fight infection, breaking down proteins and producing haemoglobin.

Vitamin B12: Why We Need It and Deficiency Symptoms

Vitamin B12 is a crucial B vitamin that our bodies cannot synthesise — hence we rely on receiving it via either food or supplementation.

B12 plays a crucial role in our nervous system, the production of red blood cells, digestion and brain function. It helps to prevent anaemia and helps to enhance mood and energy levels.

Adequate levels of vitamin B12 is important not only for our physical health but also our mental health.

Meat and meat products are the major source of vitamin B12 in our diets, but we can also receive vitamin B12 from dairy products and eggs.

Due to vitamin B12 predominately being found in animals products, vegans are at risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency. However, eating B12-fortified foods and taking B12 supplements can help.

What is the difference between Folate, Folic Acid, Folinic Acid and Methyl Folate and the relationship to mutations of the MTHFR gene?

The term ‘folate’ encompasses several different vitamins with varying activity, metabolic pathways and absorption. Naturally occurring folates are richest in green leafy vegetables. These natural folates are easily damaged by storage and cooking processes.


Folate, or vitamin B9, is found naturally in food as tetrahydrofolate derivatives. Folate is metabolized to THF in the small intestine, which allows for easier accessibility to the body. It is essential to your health to get adequate folate intake from natural food sources.

Folic Acid

Folic acid, is the common supplemental form which was designed to be highly stable, however it does require activation in the body to exert its activity.

Folic acid is an oxidized synthetic compound that was introduced in 1943. It is used in food fortification and in dietary supplements. It is known to be more stable and bioavailable than natural folates. Folic acid goes through initial reduction and methylation in the liver, but needs dihydrofolate reductase to be converted to THF form.

Folinic Acid (Activated B9)

Folinic acid is a metabolically active form of folic acid that does not require the enzymatic conversion. It is used for folic acid deficiency. Folinic acid is one of the forms of folate that can be found naturally in foods. It is a folate substance that is stable when isolated. Folinic acid is often used as a replacement for folic acid

Folinic acid is the formyl form of tetrahydrofolate and is rapidly converted to methyletrahydrofolate (MTHF), bypassing several steps involved in the metabolism of folate and rapidly increasing plasma levels.

Folic Acid and MTHFR Polymorphisms

Folinic acid is utilised to overcome the metabolic issues associated with the common inherited gene polymorphism known as c677T MTHFR.

The polymorphism results in a unstable methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) enzyme, with up to 50% of the population affected.

MTHFR plays an essential role in homocysteine metabolism and those who are homozygous for this gene are more likely to have impaired methylation and folate metabolism.

Activated folic acid (folinic acid) and  Methyl Folate (5MTHF) bypass this biochemical pathway.

Those who are heterozygous (have one copy of the polymorphic gene) for the C677T MTHFR polymorphism may have up to 40% loss of enzyme function, and up to 75% for those who are homozygous (have two copies of the polymorphic gene).

MTHFR – A Genetic Mutation That Can Affect Mental & Physical Health

You may not have heard of MTHFR yet, but it is the acronym for a gene (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) that produces an essential enzyme. It’s worth knowing about this gene because it plays a key role about many aspects of emotional and physical health.

MTHFR gene mutations are genetic mutations that instruct an important enzyme called MTHFR or Methylene TetraHydroFolate Reductase to down regulate, this causes an inability for the body to use folate from your diet, when this happens many nutritional pathways in the body become disabled or reduced, this causes MTHFR symptoms and or conditions associated to MTHFR with one of the biggest being anxiety and even panic attacks.

A quick overview of MTHFR – the essentials

We are all born with 2 MTHFR genes, one inherited from each parent. Some people have a genetic mutation in one or both of their MTHFR genes. People with mutations in one MTHFR gene are called “heterozygous” (one copy of the gene from one parent plus a normal one from the other parent) for the MTHFR mutation; if mutations are present in both genes (a copy of the mutant gene from both parents), the person is said to be “homozygous” for the mutation.

The most common mutation in the MTHFR gene is called C677T. Individuals with two copies of this mutation, occurs in 5-10% of the population and these individuals are predisposed to developing high blood levels of homocysteine, particularly when their diets are low in folate.

A second mutation in the MTHFR gene, called A1298C, has also been implicated in high blood levels of homocysteine when found in conjunction with the C677T mutation.

MTHFR C677T heterozygous (1 mutation) = 30-40% loss of function in enzyme activity

MTHFR C677T homozygous (2 mutations) = 60-70% loss of function in enzyme activity

MTHFR A1298C heterozygous = some % loss of function in enzyme activity –research is NOT clear

MTHFR A1298C homozygous = 40% loss of function in enzyme activity

Who Should Know About MTHFR?

The following mental health issues may be linked to having an MTHFR mutation – depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or autism. MTHFR mutations also increase the risk of several physical health problems, including but not limited to cardiovascular disease and stroke, recurrent early miscarriage, migraine with aura, osteoporosis, and some cancers. So, it’s worth knowing about this mutation if one or more of the above conditions run in your family.

A Quick, Basic Genetics Overview

Genes are pieces of our DNA that control a specific characteristic (such as hair or eye color, etc.). Each gene is made up of two alleles, or specific forms of that gene. In short, genes and their alleles determine what traits we inherit from our ancestors. Sometimes these traits are obvious, such as having blue vs. brown eyes. Other times, the result of a specific trait may not be immediately obvious, such as whether we will like or detest the herb cilantro, metabolize caffeine quickly or slowly, or have increased or decreased risk of a health problem down the road.

A mutation is a naturally occurring process that causes a specific variation on one or more alleles of a particular gene, changing a sequence in our DNA. Having a mutation on both alleles at a specific location on a gene is generally associated with a greater impact than if only one of a pair of alleles is different from normal.

How Common Are MTHFR Mutations?

By some estimates, up to 40% of the population may have an MTHFR mutation of some kind. The current data suggest that between 6 and 14% of Caucasians and about 2% of those of African descent probably have a more severe (two mutated alleles) version of the mutation. In Hispanics, this number may be as high as 21%. But even having one mutated allele is associated with increased risk of certain health problems. For example, having one mutated allele at either of two specific locations is associated with 20-40% reduced activity of the MTHFR enzyme (depending on where on the gene the mutation is found).  Having two mutated alleles at the same location is associated with a 40-70% reduction in enzyme activity, again, with severity depending upon the location of the mutated alleles. Some people may have two mutated alleles – one at each of two different locations on the gene – and that also increases risk of a number of health issues.

How Does This Gene Impact Health?

Normally, the MTHFR gene produces enough of the related enzyme to perform its associated functions well. One function that is particularly important to mental health is the conversion of an essential B-vitamin, folate, into the more usable form, l-methylfolate. L-Methylfolate enables our bodies to convert the amino acid homocysteine to another amino acid, methionine. The body then uses methionine to make proteins and other important compounds, including neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine). These brain chemicals are essential for a number of aspects of mental health; thus, when this process is impaired, it can increase the likelihood of the mental health issues mentioned previously. In addition, when the enzyme is not working at normal capacity, it can lead to elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood, which can lead to cardiovascular and other health problems.

If you have a personal or significant family history of one or more of the above illnesses, and in particular, if you have not responded as well as expected to conventional treatment for depression or other mental health issues, it is worth being tested for an MTHFR mutation this involves a simple swab from inside your mouth.

What can you do?

The good news is that there are some simple and inexpensive steps one can take to reduce the risks associated with MTHFR mutations, possibly improve response to antidepressant therapies, and feel better in general.

Speak with The Radio Pharmacist or your healthcare provider about whether MTHFR testing may be appropriate for you.

Swap out folic acid for the more bioavailable form of folate – l-methylfolate (5-MTHF)). This is more usable by the body and easily available in health food stores, many pharmacies, and online. L-methylfolate (5-MTHF) is sometimes referred to as “optimized folate.”

Avoid processed foods and supplements containing the folic acid form of folate. It’s not as easily used by people with an MTHFR mutation and may interfere with the absorption of l-methylfolate (5-MTHF).

Strive to eat a diet that is healthy in general and includes folate-rich foods. Leafy greens, broccoli, lentils, and many beans are great sources of folate, fibre, and other nutrients.

Because MTHFR impacts the process of methylation, it is also recommended to take a methylated (and more usable) form of  Vitamin B12, known as methylcobalamin, rather than the more commonly available cyanocobalamin form. B12 absorption is essential for good mental health, and is also compromised by the MTHFR mutation and the other factors listed above. The methylated  form of Vit B12 available either as a sub-lingual tablet that is dissolved in the mouth or an easy to use oral spray.

If you are planning a pregnancy and are positive for an MTHFR mutation, you may also need to add either low-dose aspirin or a blood thinner to your regimen to reduce the risk of blood clots associated with early miscarriage. Again, consult your healthcare provider to see if this is appropriate for you.

Finally, if one or both parents carry an MTHFR mutation, and particularly if your child has attentional difficulties or other cognitive or mental health issues, speak with your child’s health professionals about whether you should supplement his or her diet with l-methylfolate (5-MTHF) , and at what dose.

The two main gene mutations that cause anxiety include the C677T and the A1298C genes, each of the gene mutations has their own way of causing you anxiety and often people with more severe cases have both of these mutations at the same time.  Lets take a look at how each of these gene mutations cause you anxiety.

MTHFR anxiety & C677T

The MTHFR gene C677T is the mutation predominantly involved in reducing your ability to convert folate from your diet into activated folate, this means that while you have this gene mutation you can end up with a folate or folic acid deficiency and some of the main symptoms of a folate deficiency include anxiety, depression, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating and poor memory.

It’s important to understand that just having low folate levels is enough to cause you anxiety but it doesn’t stop there.  When folate levels become depleted because of the gene regulation problem, this causes a chain reaction of other nutritional problems specifically the other B complex group of vitamins and their relationship to minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids.

B complex group of vitamins & anxiety

Vitamin B1 – When this vitamin becomes deficient lactic acid builds up in your body which leads to lactic acidosis, this condition leads to anxiety and triggers panic attacks.

Vitamin B2 – When this vitamin becomes deficient it causes a reduction in a coenzyme that makes vitamin B6 work properly as an antidepressant and vitamin B3 cannot be made properly from the amino acid tryptophan which leads to depression.

Vitamin B3 – When this vitamin becomes deficient it causes anxiety and depression.

Vitamin B5 – When this vitamin becomes deficient it causes fatigue with anxiety, restlessness and irritability.

Vitamin B6 – When this vitamin becomes deficient it causes depression, nervousness, irritability and fatigue.

Vitamin B9 – also known as folate,  is one of many essential vitamins needed for copying and synthesizing DNA, producing new cells, and supporting nerve and immune functions

Vitamin B12 – When this vitamin becomes deficient it causes irritability, anxiety or tension, shortness of breath and heart palpitations

As you can see when you have the C667T gene mutation you lose your ability to use folate properly and because folate works with the other B vitamins they also become unusable which leads to anxiety, depression and even panic attacks.  Taking folate or folic acid and B vitamin supplements also becomes ineffective due to the lack of MTHFR enzyme needed to make that conversion.

The solution to this problem is to take folate as the activated  5-MTHF and to take the B group vitamins in their activated form thus by-passing the defective enzyme caused by the MTFHR gene mutation

MTHFR anxiety & A1298C

The MTHFR gene A1298C is the mutation predominantly involved in reducing your ability to produce neurotransmitters that keep you happy and calm.  Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine keep you calm, happy and motivated, when you have the A1298C gene your production of these vital neurotransmitters is reduced or becomes unbalanced, this then causes you to feel low, worried, depressed and or anxious.

Is MTHFR causing your anxiety?

Over 50% of society has one or more MTHFR gene mutations. A simple MTHFR  test can tell you if you have one of the genes and specific anxiety treatments go a long way to helping you overcome your anxiety, depression & or panic attacks.

MTHFR gene mutation affects almost every area of your body, that means it can affect your organs, your brain and nervous system, this is why it can easily cause anxiety.  MTHFR causes many mental health problems that are strongly associated to anxiety disorder such as:



Low self esteem

Mood swings

Bipolar disorder


Suicidal thoughts

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Oppositional defiant disorder

Learning difficulties

Addictive behaviour


How to resolve anxiety with MTHFR?

Often people have experienced anxiety for many years of their lives and it can be difficult for them to imagine life without anxiety.  Once you discover that your anxiety is coming from MTHFR gene problems there is good news, correcting nutritional imbalances the right way by supporting the gene mutation is very successful at resolving anxiety.  Get yourself tested for the MTHFR  gene mutations and seek professional treatments that can greatly help boost your resistance to anxiety.

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