Have you ever had a health issue, whether physical or mental, that really confounded you?
I have been experiencing what I call “post-ovulation depression” for a couple of years now.
Ever since my cycle returned several months ago after having the baby, I’ve been trying to find answers. I’ve read books, Googled it, talked to friends. I turned up nothing. The best I found was a message forum post or two where another woman asked the same question I was:
“Why do I feel sad immediately after I ovulate?”
I feel great during the first two weeks of my cycle – I’m energetic, motivated – almost to the point of being just shy of hyper. Stresses don’t bother me as much and I’m much more able to tackle the problems that come up. I also sleep better during this time.
But then, quite literally the day after my peak ovulation day (I know this information because I chart my cycles for Natural Family Planning), I fall into a hole.
For the next 4 days or so I am depressed. It will ebb and flow for the next two weeks, a couple of up days and a couple of down days. During this time I feel tired and I sleep lightly – every little noise wakes me up. Then, I feel better instantly once my period begins.
I do have a family history of depression so I’m careful to pay attention to symptoms like this. However, this isn’t bipolar, anxiety or clinical depression – it’s totally hormonally related and completely predictable based on my cycle.
This is very frustrating to me.
I am a very positive person who takes good care of herself. I exercise daily, I rarely drink, I eat well, take high quality multivitamins and fish oil. I’m at my ideal weight, give or take 5 pounds. I don’t have any other symptoms of depression (sleeping too much or too little, eating issues, etc). I’m generally a very happy, positive person who is able to meet her goals and has a zest for life. I just had a complete physical and everything checked out – my iron is great, my thyroid is fine. I’ve tried progesterone cream but other than helping me fall asleep more readily, it doesn’t seem to help the mood changes.
I finally sent a desperate sounding email to Dr. Heather, a naturopath I interviewed a few months ago for the show.
She was gracious enough to send a lengthy reply. She published it on her blog here: “I have post ovulation depression“.
To paraphrase, she suspected that my serotonin levels might dip too low during my luteal phase (that’s fancy talk for “after you ovulate”).
“At times during your menstrual cycle (it is usually mid cycle – after ovulation) the chemical level of serotonin may decrease.
Serotonin does many things in the body but one of it’s important job is elevating our moods. My guess is that your serotonin levels are low during this time making it difficult for you to feel your normal zest for life.
The best way to increase serotonin levels is to begin eating tryptophan rich foods as tryptophan will convert to serotonin in the body. Try doing this from ovulation to when your cycle begins. I have a list of tryptophan foods here. I also recommend the book by Carol Hart, Secrets of Serotonin, to learn more.”
I read the Serotonin Solution book, and it was certainly interesting and enlightening (did you know that serotonin turns into melatonin in the evening? They’re the same hormone!), but it confused me because it recommends a very high carb, low protein/fat diet. The author recommends only eating one meal with protein every day, at dinner. I don’t think – I know that wouldn’t work for me.
I also re-read The Mood Cure: The 4-Step Program to Take Charge of Your Emotions–Today by Julia Ross, and it recommends the opposite to boost serotonin levels – a high protein/fat, low carb diet.
Then I read Potatoes Not Prozac and it said something similar to The Mood Cure – with the twist of recommending eating a high carb snack (baked potato, no butter) at night to increase brain serotonin levels while you sleep, which hopefully will spill over into the day.
I decided to begin a mood/food diary to see how food might be affecting me, and whether my carbohydrate intake during my luteal phase affects symptoms. Incidentally I DO crave rice and bagels when my serotonin is low – but I don’t know if eating those foods would be helpful. When do we give in to a craving and when don’t we?
Also, I began taking tryptophan (an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin) in the luteal phase of my cycle. After doing a bit more digging, I found some information on Wikipedia‘s tryptophan page that pointed to a connection between low serotonin and Seasonal Affective Disorder (which I’ve experienced for years!) and a little something called “premenstrual dysphoric disorder” – which incidentally describes my symptoms to a T- just more severe than I experience.
The tryptophan seems to help me sleep better. It does make me feel a little “high” though, like I’ve had 2 glasses of wine. I don’t want to have to rely on it because I don’t like that feeling.
In the meantime, I’ve been looking for all the ways you can boost serotonin levels naturally. That’s tomorrow’s post!
p.s. Reading up on serotonin has left me with the conclusion that low serotonin may be inherited. My 10 year old son seems to be affected by a phenomenon known as “sundowning” (I didn’t know there was a name for it until recently). He often comes to me in the early evening around dusk and complains of being “sad for no reason”. Turns out this is related to the drop in serotonin levels we naturally experience as the sun goes down, to prepare our bodies for sleep. Maybe some people are very sensitive to this change? I’ve always hated dusk, and my mom has told me she experiences the same thing.