Between the long days and the cold weather, winter can inflict a host of physiological effects on both men’s and women’s bodies. This can, in turn, alter our hormones.
If you feel a bit off during the winter, both physically and mentally, know there are scientific explanations for that, and they revolve around your hormones. Hormones are the chemical messengers of your body. Secreted directly into your blood, hormones travel into your tissues and organs and are responsible for coordinating processes like growth, metabolism, fertility and behavior.
Sunlight and cold weather’s impact on hormones
The less sunlight we receive, the more significantly our circadian rhythms are affected. When the circadian rhythm, or internal clock, is adversely affected, the body produces more melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone. Queue those sluggish and lethargic feelings.
It’s more difficult to absorb vitamin D when the days are shorter, as well, and a lack of vitamin D can impact the body’s mood, energy levels and immune system. The winter can also cause our bodies to release less serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that dictates our mood.
For some people, low serotonin levels can trigger Seasonal Mood Disorder (SMD). Women are four times more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder than men and fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone – two hormones predominantly found in women – in the winter could be responsible for the disparity. Lower levels of these two hormones can lead to lower serotonin levels in women and delayed circadian rhythms. These fluctuations can disrupt the mood, as mentioned above.
You should talk to your doctor if you feel depressed, consistently have low energy, feel abnormally sluggish or agitated or have difficulty concentrating during the winter, as you may be experiencing symptoms of SMD. Light therapy is sometimes prescribed as a treatment method.
The cold weather we endure this time of year can have an impact on a person’s sex drive. Men tend to produce less testosterone during colder months, which can lead to a lower libido. Lower testosterone levels typically correlate with a lack of concentration, lower energy, and sleep deprivation, among other symptoms.
Thyroid trouble in the winter
Studies have found that the human body experiences elevated levels of the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) in the winter. Elevated TSH levels could be a sign of mild hypothyroidism, or, a mildly underactive thyroid. Mild hypothyroidism is an early stage of hypothyroidism.
It occurs when your thyroid function becomes slightly impaired, and the thyroid gland stops producing enough thyroid hormone to meet your body’s needs. When fully realized, this thyroid disorder is more likely to develop in women after menopause. However, according to studies, the natural, seasonal fluctuation of hormones sometimes cause doctors to mistakenly diagnose people with mild hypothyroidism.
Whether thyroid issues run in your family or not, you should consider undergoing thyroid function tests this winter if you are experiencing the following symptoms:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Muscle weakness
- Puffy face
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Pain, stiffness or swelling of the joints
- An enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
Five ways to improve hormone imbalance by maintaining circadian alignment
- Maintain a consistent bedtime routine and get plenty of sleep.
- Spend 20-30 minutes outside in the sunlight, preferably in the morning.
- Exercise regularly throughout the winter.
- Cut yourself off from caffeine at a certain time each day.
- Check with your doctor to see if vitamin D supplements and/or light therapy is right for you.
- How Traumatic Events Affect our Feelings of Safety
- Four Ways to Build a More Disability-Inclusive Workplace
- Return of the Flu: Activity Increasing in Michigan
Photo credit: Getty Images