Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Hormones, Depression and the Endocrine System

Most research into the causes of depression focus on the limbic system: what the neurons and neurotransmitters inside that part of our brain of are to. However, more and more research is focusing on the endocrine system, and how our hormones contribute to mood shifts.

I’ve been reading up on this because, as most of you know, I’ve been dealing with a pituitary tumor that is not my friend right now. Researching more about what’s going on in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis has been extremely enlightening. I’m not sure how much of my clinical depression is actually caused by the production of the wrong hormones, or if my neurotransmitters are sleeping on the job again. But I thought I’d clue you in on how the endocrine system plays out in depression. I found this on the site “All About Depression,” which you can get to by clicking here.


Another area of research in determining the causes of clinical depression is focused on the endocrine system. This system works with the brain to control numerous activities within the body. The endocrine system is made up of small glands within the body, which create hormones and release them into the blood. The hormones that are released into the body by the glands regulate processes such as reaction to stress and sexual development. It has been found that a great number of people who are depressed have abnormal levels of some hormones in their blood despite having healthy glands. It is believed that such hormonal irregularities may be related to some depressive symptoms such as problems with appetite and sleeping since they play a part in these activities. Further clues to the role of the endocrine system has to do with the fact that those who have particular endocrine disorders sometimes develop depression, and some individuals who are depressed develop endocrine problems despite having healthy glands. 


The endocrine system usually keeps the hormonal levels from becoming excessive through an intricate process of feedback, much like a thermostat in a home. Hormonal levels in the body are constantly monitored. When a specific hormone rises to particular level the gland stops producing and releasing the hormone. When an individual is depressed this feedback process may not function as it should.

Problems with hormone levels may be intertwined with the changes in brain chemistry that are seen in clinical depression. The endocrine system is connected with the brain at the hypothalamus which controls many bodily activities such as sleep, appetite, and sexual drive. The hypothalamus also regulates the pituitary gland that, in turn, controls the hormonal secretion of other glands. The hypothalamus uses some of the neurotransmitters that have been associated with depression as it manages the endocrine system. These neurotransmitters, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine all have a role in the management of hormone function.


The development of clinical depression may be a symptom of a disorder present within organs that produce hormones. Such conditions include thyroid disorders, Cushing’s syndrome, and Addison’s disease.

Of those individuals who are clinically depressed, about one-half will have an excess of a hormone in their blood called cortisol. Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands. Located near the kidneys, the adrenal glands assist us in our reactions to stressful events. Cortisol may continue to be secreted even though a person already has high levels in his or her blood. This hormone is believed to be related to clinical depression since the high levels usually reduce to a normal level once the depression disappears.

The hypothalamus may be the culprit when it comes to excessive levels of cortisol in the blood. It is responsible for starting the process that leads to the secretion of cortisol by the adrenal glands. The hypothalamus first manufactures corticotrophic-releasing hormone (CRH). The pituitary gland is then stimulated into releasing adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH). This hormone then makes the adrenal glands secret cortisol in the blood. When the endocrine system is functioning properly, the hypothalamus monitors the level of cortisol that is in the blood. When the level rises, the hypothalamus slows down its influence on the pituitary gland in production of CRH. When cortisol levels become reduced, the hypothalamus causes the pituitary gland to produce more CRH. In a person who is depressed, the hypothalamus may continuously influence the pituitary to produce CRH without regard to the amount of cortisol that is in the blood.


Other research concerning cortisol has shown that the timing of the release of this hormone may be problematic in those who are depressed. People who are not depressed tend to have secretions of cortisol at certain times of the day. Cortisol levels are highest at approximately 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and then lowest during the night. This normal cycling of cortisol levels does not occur in some people who are depressed. For instance, they might have a consistent level of cortisol all the time, or highest amounts in the middle of the night.

Cortisol levels can be tested using something called a dexamethasone suppression test (DST). This is not a test for depression since some people who are depressed may not be identified by the results of the test, but it can be used to confirm a diagnosis of depression in some people. This test involves giving a dose of dexamethasone, a synthetic cortisol, to an individual before he or she goes to sleep at night. At 8:00 a.m. the next morning, the person’s blood is tested for cortisol. It is tested again at 4:00 p.m. In healthy individuals cortisol levels drop at first, but then return to normal as the hypothalamus compensates for the dexamethasone in the blood. In those who are severely depressed, approximately one-half will have abnormal results. Cortisol secretion may not be reduced by the hypothalamus, or there may be no change at all after receiving the synthetic cortisol.


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  • Denise Thorbjornsen

    I would support this bill,but again planned parenthood are sneeking their way in to use post partum depression as a means to abort innocent babies in the womb. Believe me God Almighty will bring problems on our nation for doing this. If the bill just advocated to help Mothers to alleviate the symptoms of post partum depression,then I would support it. But alas, the bill sneeks in that insidious abortion.Using the depression as an excuse to murder the baby.In the name of Almighty God, stop the tax money or grant money from going to abortion mills;Planned parenthood, and other clinics that annihalate our future citizens! Thank you,Denise Thorbjornsen

  • Pam

    Denise, your post was depressing. I did not see why you had to go into what you did here. I think you might be in the wrong forum….

  • wanda conlee

    Denise, This is not depressing at all, It is real and if she had a pituitary tumor she would have been glad to see this post. I also have a pituitary tumor. I was put on Parlodel to keep the tumor from growing and this medication makes me real sick. I also battle depression and many more symptoms from my tumor. I am so interested to hear about what your doctors are doing for your tumor and any tips I can get for treating this without surgery, I am just to scared for surgery.

  • Laura

    I have to admit that I did not read this entire article, but I do have to say that I agree with the fact that hormones are hugely responsible for depression. In my own case, I have battled depression and anxiety my whole adult life. When I was 17 I was put on valium because I don’t think the medical community was very informed about anxiety and panic disorders then. I became pregnant at 34 and stopped the valium immediately and was very concerned about getting through my panic attacks without it, but I have to say that my anxiety attacks disappeared while I was pregnant and for years afterwards. When I was 41 my dad became terminally ill and the I became clinically depressed. I was then put on Paxil for a few years and went off of it at 49. I have since started menopause and fought going back on medication, but now again at 52 the anxiety and depression are back and I am totally convinced that my hormones are responsible. I have always felt that with the exception of the time period of my dad’s illness and death followed by my mom’s, the periods of anxiety and depression in my life were completely caused by hormones. I am back on anti-depressants now for the past 2 months and also on HRT and I feel so much better.

  • Suzz

    What I would like to know is how you get a doctor to listen to you in order to do the tests? Anytime I go to a doctor (I’m 51) they want me to take estrogen.. then I have to take progrestrone which gives me a tremedous headache and I swell up like a whale, or they will give me an antidepressant. Apparently I don’t know how to communicate with doctors because that is all that has ever been done, with the exception of one that put me on compounded magnesium and something that was supposed to make my cortisol get back to normal.. high in the morning .. low at night. Of course she is not on my insurance anymore, and the next dr. said she was wrong. So what do you do?

  • Leesa

    I have been put on medication for my anxiety attacks. It is also used for depression. I do not feel sad or suicidal, but the medication is great!!! I am 42 and I am sure that I will be starting menopause stages soon.?? With the medication that I am taking I am hoping that it will help.

  • Your Name

    Maca will fix an underactive thryoid, adrenal glands, and pituitary glands. If hormones are high, avoide maca. If they are low, take maca. It is the all in one solution for low performing endocrine system.
    Also, although it wasn’t on topic, I salute Denise for her work toward trying to save innocent lives. Shame on all of you who ridiculed her.

  • Your Name

    I would like to address the pitutary tumors issues, my daughter was diagnoised with pitutary adenoma and what it boiled down to was underactive thyroid, once medicated for thyroid her pitutary went back to normal. I dont know if your Drs have tested or treated you for Hypothyroidism or not but its worth a shot.
    I would also like to suggest to the lady that the Drs cant seem to get her meds straight that she go see a Endocrinologist they are the experts in this field I believe. I too have a depression problem and I think thats where I should go to get my hormones tested and other tests done.

  • Your Name

    My depression began in my teens as well. Now at age 38, I’ve discovered that, when I have my period I bleed very heavy. That heavy bleeding has made me anemic and I belive that the anemia brings on the depression. Two of my sisters,who have battled fibriod tumors and bleed heavily, have also had bouts with depression. I haven’t dicussed this with my doctor but I wonder if there is a connection. I was on Paxil for two years but as the heavy periods contiued, my depression only got worse.

  • lori

    Now, if that interests you, you should read about the parathyroid, not the thyroid, but parathyroid.
    I went to the mayo to find out about my parathyroid and why it was so messed up. Really, the four parathyroid glands control ALOT! an unbalance can cause depression, extreme fatigue and muscle weakness, even up to schizophrenia.

  • Christi

    I too have hypothyroidism. I didn’t know what I had, but knew the symptoms–depression, heavy periods, brittle hair/nails, etc…were undeniable. I now take $4/month pill for my thyroid and all those symptoms plus others disappeared. It is amazing all the symptoms I had just because my thyroid was out of whack.

  • Jillian

    Thank you for your blog about hormones. I’ve always suspected hormones play a vital part in depression and anxiety disorder. Raging hormones certainly affect depression in pregnancy and post partum depression.
    Keep up the good work. Thanks for being on top of medical studies!

  • tisane

    Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands. Located near the kidneys, the adrenal glands assist us in our reactions to stressful events. Cortisol may continue to be secreted even though a person already has high levels in his or her blood. This hormone is believed to be related to clinical depression since the high levels usually reduce to a normal level once the depression disappears.

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  • Edgardo Benson

    If only I had a dime for each time I came to Amazing article!

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  • Charlotte Jess

    The Endocrine Array from Randox provides simultaneous detection of multiple hormones from a single patient sample.
    The Randox Endocrine Array has been developed to detect the following hormones in human serum or plasma samples:
    Cortisol (CORT)
    Dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate (DHEAs)
    17? Hydroxyprogesterone (17? OHP)
    Leptin (LEPT)
    These hormones perform various vital functions within the human body. They are involved in adrenal gland function, metabolism, the immune system as well as the maintenance of body weight and energy. They are helpful markers in the diagnosis of numerous conditions and diseases, some of which include; stress, hypoglycemia, cushings syndrome, addison’s disease, adrenal tumours, alopecia and nutritional depravation.
    Designed for research and development usage, the Endocrine Array is capable of providing high quality, reliable results. This array utilises the proven multiplexing technique known as Biochip Array Technology. Biochip Array Technology allows the simultaneous detection of multiple analytes from one single sample, providing a more complete patient profile and diagnosis. Only a small sample volume is required, thus saving time whilst reducing patient discomfort. Biochip Array Technology is simple and straightforward as the biochips are ready to use, reducing preparation time and more importantly, time to result.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Robyn

    wondering if you might know what type of dr. would do this type of testing and if they did how they would treat the patient. THANK YOU…and hope to hear from you soon!!!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Christopher Locati

    Hi. I wanted to tell you about my 40 year history with a pituitary tumor. When I was 8 years old, I started having some vision problems and went to the doctor. Dr. Sherman, bless him, told us it was probably just sinus problems, but he took x-rays anyway.
    It was discovered I had a non-cancerous tumor growing around my pituitary gland. My parents took me to UCSF Moffit Hospital and I had the tumor removed. It was a long and arduous two-months for me. At the time the surgeons weren’t going through the palate yet and so I had my entire skull cut through from ear to ear.
    From that point on, I have had to fight depression. Sometimes I do a good job, but other times I really struggle. I have been in therapy off and on for decades. I just recently started researching the connection between endocrine and depression. I was very glad to find this out because I always thought it was my fault. Wow!


    I was reading about depression, and its all about hormones and health. Im 46 years old, and I trying to keep healty, eating good and work out.

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