Hormones Mental Health Stress & Anxiety

6 Common Causes of Mood Swings

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: September 6, 2018
mitigates causes of mood swings

Let’s Talk about Mood Swings

The causes of mood swings in women are always seemingly attributed to our “hormones.” Is that true? Sometimes. However, often, it’s more complex than just “hormones being out of whack.” What about irritability? Indeed, there are 6 causes of both mood swings and irritability that I’ll reveal in this article. Additionally, I’ll share Judy’s story, an AWS member, to illustrate how I fixed her moods from swinging out of control. Medically speaking, I’ll first explain what mood swings are.

What are Mood Swings?

A mood swing is a rapid divergence from very happy to very sad or vice versa. It often involves a plethora of other symptoms which Judy’s experience will reveal. There is also a type of bipolar illness called rapid cycling bipolar illness in which those with this disorder have rapid mood changes, but that is rare and will not be discussed here.

Medically, a mood swing is labeled as a rapid or extreme change in one’s mood. Mood swings can play a positive part in the process of promoting problem-solving. Mood swings can help with emotional flexibility in making plans. However, when mood swings are so intense that they are disruptive to the well-being of the “mood-swinger” and those around them, it’s a problem to be solved.

One of the Leading Causes of Mood Swings in Women

Mood swings in women are often due to hormones. The majority of females (not just Judy!) suffer from PMDD (“PMS”) which is caused primarily by a deficiency of progesterone. This can start as early as the teen years, yet most “regular doctors” are not aware this is the cause. As a result, doctors prescribe anti-depressants for mood swings. In fact, the FDA has approved some anti-depressants for use in PMDD! Men can have hormonally based mood swings, but that comes later in life during andropause.

Note that PMS, better known as PMDD, is the leading cause of mood swings in women. However, there are other causes. If this article doesn’t provide enough information to find relief, then see your doctor.

What about Other Causes of Mood Swings and Irritability?

Dopamine Deficiency

If you are deficient in the neurotransmitter dopamine, you will likely be a bit irritable or even angry. You might be addictive. You might have bouts of depression. Generally, you feel more tired than you “should.” You might have serious sugar cravings and even binge-eat. Perhaps, though, you simply have mood swings. If you’re not taking anti-depressants and don’t have a bipolar illness, certainly give l-tyrosine and SAMe a try to fix what might be a dopamine deficiency.

Caffeine/Sugar/Starchy carbs and Booze

These are the third, fourth, fifth and sixth causes of mood swings. I’m assuming you’re not hooked on drugs, but that would be the seventh cause. Back to our friend, dopamine. Dopamine is released when we eat sugary foods or drink coffee, alcohol or eat mashed potatoes. However, two issues may arise here. These substances cause an insulin surge which makes us keep eating. To clarify, if you are eating sugar to get your dopamine fix, you’ll have mood swings from the dopamine deficiency and heightened mood swings due to blood sugar variability.

In addition, sugar, alcohol and starchy foods (and likely caffeine) can cause down-regulation of dopamine receptors in the brain, making you literally addicted to these substances. The solution is to control your eating and drinking with dopamine boosting-supplements. Further, make sure you are not over-drinking caffeine beyond healthy levels.

Judy’s symptoms

Judy conveyed she had frequent outbursts at loved ones which “just came out.”

She had mood swings, episodes of crying, disinterest in daily activities and relationships, trouble focusing and “thinking straight” and some short term memory loss. She was feeling out of control and even overwhelmed at times. Low energy levels became an issue as well.

Lastly, she had food cravings and did some binge eating. She didn’t have depression which is what most doctors would have diagnosed. The real clue was these symptoms only occurred 10-15 days prior to her menstrual periods. This was obvious progesterone deficiency made worse by many other things (to be discussed below). However, please note some women are progesterone-deficient all month.

Help for Judy

Judy had a clear-cut progesterone deficiency. Since many factors influence mood and hormones, it was necessary to do more than just hormone replacement.

It’s possible to measure baseline dopamine levels by controlling sugar, caffeine, starch, and alcohol in the diet and then checking a 24-hour urine sample. However, there is such a high incidence of both dopamine and the neurotransmitter serotonin deficiency in those with progesterone deficiency that it is rarely necessary.

Diet Clean-Up

I instructed Judy to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sweets during the volatile 2 weeks. Staying away from coffee and other caffeinated drinks for two weeks before her period made quite a difference in Judy’s mood. Caffeine can increase anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia which in turn exacerbates problematic low energy issues. We tried 1 cup in the morning, but even that was too much for her.

As mentioned, sugar itself can cause mood swings. Cutting down on alcohol is helpful not just due to the sugar and dopamine but also because alcohol acts as a depressant. Steering clear of candy, soda, and other sugary foods, especially in the week or two before Judy’s period, helped ease severe mood swings associated with blood sugar fluctuations.

Of course, Judy began following my anti-inflammatory diet which is helpful for all symptoms. To reduce bloating, allowed snacks included natural diuretics such as bananas, fennel, tomatoes, celery, watercress, and citrus fruits during her PMDD time.

To amp up her energy, she now eats high energy foods, drinks high energy beverages and takes high-energy natural supplements like acetyl-l-carnitine and the latest mitochondrial supplement called PQQ.


mitigates causes of mood swingsPhysical activity can lift moods and improve depression. Endorphins—feel-good brain chemicals that are released during exercise—may help counteract some of the hormone changes that may trigger severe PMDD.

Exercising can also boost energy and help with cramps and bloat; which made Judy feel better. Unfamiliar with weight training, she read a few of my fitness articles to get started.

GI tract Clean-Up

If you have a leaky gut or issues such as constipation or diarrhea or have been on antibiotics, it will result in a poor metabolism and mood. A well functioning GI tract is vital to have your immune system, brain, mood and more “run correctly.”

Judy had decently well controlled non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Adding l-glutamine powder to her reds/greens drink protected her GI tract lining from accidental gluten encounters.


If you have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep or wake up feeling un-refreshed, then you are not experiencing proper, restful sleep. Such was surprisingly not the case with Judy. However, if you relate, please see my sleep articles for help.


While some controversy remains over whether herbs can cure hormonal health issues, science suggests they might help. Chaste berry may stimulate your endocrine system to produce more natural progesterone. As a result, it may cut your bloating, irritability, and achy-breast symptoms in half.

helps causes of mood swings and irritabilityEvening primrose may help alleviate anxiety and cramps. Valerian root, an ingredient in many teas and many good muscle relaxant supplements, may work as a muscle relaxer for muscle soreness.

Neither of these did too much for Judy. Instead, I suggested pregnenolone for the following reasons. Her blood-work revealed she was deficient in this intermediary hormone, which increases the relaxation brain chemical GABA to help with irritability.

It breaks down into progesterone and a small amount of cortisol. Her cortisol was low-normal; that wasn’t an issue. Lastly, I cannot prescribe bio-identical hormones unless someone is a patient. Judy didn’t have the finances to make that happen or to see an A4M doc near her. We decided to try 100 mg, and then 200 mg per day of pregnenolone.

Let’s return to discussing Judy’s basic chemistry. Indeed, she was deficient in some brain chemicals. The monthly progesterone deficit just “brought it all out.” It was time to move onward to fixing her brain chemistry.

Happy Brain Chemical Precursors

For stress eating and general mood issues, I added the “S ” precursor tailored just for her. I’m talking about serotonin. The precursor is 5-HTP, and the typical dose is 100-200 mg 3x/day and 400+ mg at night. Please read the day time “sleepy” and night time “GI” precautions. Note: Don’t take this if you have bi-polar illness or are taking anti-depressants.

A higher dose is required to cure binge eating. We increased the dose gradually to reduce side effects. For irritability, I added the D (dopamine) precursors. L-tyrosine was recommended at 4 caps (usual dosage is 2 caps) and 4 caps of SAMe 2x daily. SAMe is also necessary to achieve adequate dopamine levels; not just L-tyrosine. The combo kicks in faster than anti-depressants without the side effects.

Progesterone deficiency knocks down all of the happy brain chemicals, and I sure didn’t need a blood test to make this obvious diagnosis. For the anxiety/irritability, she was already on l-glutamine for her non-celiac gluten issue, and I recommended another natural supplement (PharmaGABA) to up GABA levels even more. Currently, Judy lives a very happy life. She no longer experiences mood swings or wastes half of each month!

Additional Diets and Supplements

Initially, Judy was following a diet, but the binge eating during these times derailed her ability to lose weight. She has been an AgeWellSolutions Platinum Circle member for 3 months and has almost lost the 20 lbs she aimed to lose. She chose the nutritional ketosis diet to stabilize her blood sugar swings further and suppress her appetite.

I also suggested Judy try the reds/green powders; the all natural non-GMO organic way to get adequate fruits and veggies to avoid oxidative stress. Since her weight was up, so was internal inflammation by definition. I have many AWS members and patients taking supplements for inflammation (curcumin, fish oils, green tea) so she benefited from that too. Of course, for her GI tract, a good prebiotic-probiotic combo was mandatory.

Final Words

Cleaning up your diet, eliminating oxidative stress and inflammation as well balancing your GI-tract microbiome helps all mood issues. All mood issues—not just mood swings, but everything from depression to anxiety—are helped when you follow the above. Even “traditional” Psychiatrists know this is necessary if they are “up to date.”

The bottom line is Judy is cured. As she ages, she’ll need bio-identical progesterone. However, the behavioral changes will be the template for her good health for life. The earlier this is established, the better.



  1. I had read your progesterone article, tried the pregnenolone and it DID work great!

  2. I have fibromyalgia and will tell you that it causes mood swings. My doctors made fun of me asking them about dopamine and serotonin so I tried what you recommended and not only is my mood stable, my pain is improved. thanks!

  3. I feel as though you were talking about me. My husband will thank you for the information you have provided.

    • Just contact me to schedule your free consult if I can be of assistance Athena-Best,Dr.Kim

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