Would you believe that one small bump to the head could feel like an entire asteroid has crashed into your universe? Something as common as a concussion can not only cause endless physical symptoms but also a variety of unexpected emotional changes. From unexplained anxiety to sudden intrusive thoughts, there’s a surprising link between concussions, hormones, and mood instability.
When certain structures and pathways within the brain are damaged by a concussion, it can create complications among the body’s hormone production and natural inflammatory response that impact the areas of the brain responsible for mood regulation. To better understand why this happens — and learn how to get unpredictable mood swings under control — just keep reading.
The Link Between Concussions and Hormones
It’s no secret that there’s a possibility you can damage the underlying structures of your brain any time you hit your head. After all, that’s why a concussion is called a traumatic brain injury (TBI)! But what most people don’t know is which parts of the brain primarily become injured… and that’s the true key as to why hormonal dysregulation and mood instability issues spike after a concussion.
When you hit your head, there’s a gland called the hypothalamus that’s particularly vulnerable to injury. The hypothalamus sits directly above the brainstem at the base of your brain and regulates all the hormones in your body. It calculates the number of hormones currently circulating in your bloodstream and makes adjustments by communicating with another brain gland, the pituitary.
Unfortunately, studies have shown that nearly 60% of traumatic brain injuries result in damage to the hypothalamus and/or pituitary gland. When these crucial brain structures become injured due to a concussion, the body becomes more vulnerable to problems with hormone production that can lead to — you guessed it! — problems with mood regulation and mood instability.
Hormone Imbalances and Mood Instability
A little-known side effect of a concussion is a hormonal imbalance, which occurs when your hormone levels get thrown out of whack (or really, whacked out of whack). Hormones are your body’s chief communicators, so when they fall out of balance, communication in your body can go awry. There are two primary types of hormones that can be disrupted after a concussion:
- Steroid hormones like pregnenolone, progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol.
- Peptide hormones like insulin, vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), and gastrin.
Here’s how each type of hormone can impact mood regulation after a concussion.
1. Steroid Hormones and Mood
One of the most common hormonal imbalances that occurs after a concussion is a reduction in pregnenolone production. Pregnenolone is the precursor to all steroid hormones and also acts as a neurosteroid, which means it works to rebuild and regrow the brain after an injury. The body can’t build hormones or repair itself when pregnenolone levels drop, which makes it harder to recover.
Pregnenolone, along with the other steroid hormones it helps produce, all play a role in regulating neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, are what help the body regulate mood. Once neurotransmitters fail to regulate properly after a concussion, it’s common to experience mood instability that causes you to become anxious, irritable, or completely shut down.
2. Peptide Hormones and Mood
Aside from steroid hormone production, the next most common hormonal imbalance is a reduction in peptide hormones like vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), which control numerous bodily functions. When these drop low, it actually makes it so that we can’t regulate inflammation in either division of the immune system: the innate immune system or the adaptive immune system.
The innate immune system activates an inflammatory response whenever the body is exposed to a pathogen or virus that it’s never been exposed to before, like the flu. After a few days, the adaptive immune system figures out what the innate immune system’s firing to, builds the necessary antibodies and memory cells, and then brings the previous inflammation back to baseline.
However, the body relies on peptide hormones to regulate the innate immune system. When a concussion reduces hormone production, the body gets stuck in an inflammatory response that can break pathways in the brain — pathways that make it possible to regulate mood. Such micro-structure neurological changes can cause frequent intrusive thoughts and mood swings.
How to Know if a Concussion is to Blame
If you’ve been experiencing mood swings or unexpected emotional changes after a concussion, it’s very likely that hormonal imbalances are to blame. To assess if a concussion has caused issues with hormone production or regulation, we generally start with a quantified electroencephalograph (qEEG) or a digital brain map that evaluates brain function (or in this case, dysfunction).
A qEEG will reveal any signs of hormone instability that may be causing impairment in certain areas of the brain, such as the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. It will also allow us to determine if there is a network engagement problem, which is not only common after prolonged periods of innate immune system inflammation in the brain but is also significantly linked to mood swings.
For further hormone analysis, we’ll conduct blood testing as well as a 24-hour urine assessment, which will allow us to evaluate how the body is producing hormones and how the liver is breaking down and detoxing those hormones. The analysis process will also uncover how hormone levels fluctuate throughout different times of the day for the most optimal treatment plan.
How to Treat Mood Instability After a TBI
The good news is, mood instability following a concussion is very rarely permanent. However, the conventional treatment options on the market today are fairly limited. So, it’s common for people to find when they go on first-line therapies, like oral medications, that only 10 to 25% of them will actually receive therapeutic benefits — primarily the regulation of mood instability.
Fortunately, several non-traditional methods can help. Treatments like functional neurology, neurofeedback, neuromodulation, and even hormone replacement therapy can repair the underlying structural damage and get mood swings under control once and for all. Where conventional treatments may fail, alternative medicine practices have been shown to succeed.
Take control over mood instability.
Has a concussion rocked your world and destroyed your mood with it? Seek guidance from the top-rated post-concussion rehabilitation clinic in Calgary.