Are Your Hormones Preventing Weight Loss?
How often have you heard someone say, “no matter what I do I can’t lose weight”? Think of all the people that no matter the diet and no matter how much they exercise, the scale never changes. That is because weight loss is more than just the “calories in, calories out” process.
There are many factors that can go into what will help or hinder an individual achieve their weight loss goal. Something very important is often overlooked, hormones. These are the messages and signals sent all over the body by endocrine glands. These messages are like keys that only fit inside specific locks, which when turned allow the body to regulate normal function. As we age our bodies and hormones change, but other factors influence how well these keys fit into the locks.
A hormone that probably comes to mind is estrogen. Commonly thought of as a female sex hormone, it is created by all humans in varying amounts. As humans age and go through different phases (think pregnancy or puberty) their levels of estrogen fluctuate. During and after menopause estrogen levels drop significantly. This also occurs in individuals that have their ovaries surgically removed. With this drop in estrogen there is also a drop in insulin sensitivity, another important weight related hormone. Insulin is the key that opens cells to glucose, the fuel they need to operate. Without insulin working properly, sugar levels stay elevated, which signals for more insulin production. The body’s compensation for this is to take the extra blood sugar and store it for later use, also known as body fat. Additionally, estrogen helps stop the body from making its own glucose independent of food intake.
Then what about testosterone? All humans make testosterone and levels also drop with aging. Research shows that as testosterone levels decrease so does the ability to lose weight. In this research when men were treated with testosterone therapy their weight decreased. Does that mean testosterone can help women lose weight? In cases of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or when women have higher than typical levels of testosterone, they develop weight loss resistance. However, too low of testosterone is also associated with weight loss resistance in women. This is partly to do with the fact that testosterone converts into estrogen. Essentially, healthy sex hormone levels aid in weight loss or weight management.
Mentioned before was the hormone insulin, the key that opens the cells to glucose. With elevated insulin levels, individuals gain weight. Insulin allows glucose to be used as fuel and/or stored as fat. When someone is insulin resistant, the body pumps out even more insulin to keep up with the elevated levels of glucose in the blood. This excessive glucose is stored as fat to be used as fuel later. The problem is, if there is high levels of insulin and a high level of blood glucose, the stored fat will not be used. This mechanism was developed for survival in times of famine. One of the issues is our biological makeup has not changed much for over 10,000 years, but our diets and lifestyles have been dramatically altered.
One major thing that has changed is how humans eat. This includes what and how much they eat. Think of your grandparents, how did they eat? How often did they eat outside of the home? Think now of how often people eat food away from home and how often it is away from an actual table. Today people grab and go whatever food they can get. This means less nutritious foods and more of it.
Then why are people so hungry all the time if they are eating more? Leptin is a hormone that signals you are full. Fat cells make leptin to send the signal of fullness to the brain. However, in overweight individual’s leptin resistance can be developed. This echoes insulin resistance where the signal for the hormones to work effectively must get stronger and stronger. For example, a fast-food meal is high in calories and low in nutrient value. This meal does not create long term fullness, but the high amount of calories still leads to weight gain. The brain does not get the proper cue from leptin to feel full. Instead, the body keeps asking for more and more food leading to higher levels of fat tissue. If someone has excessively high leptin levels it is associated with weight loss resistance, but this will not always be obvious unless blood work is done. Alternately, when a decrease in fat mass does occur leptin levels can drop which leads to an increase in food cravings which can also delay weight loss goals.
Finally, another important hormone connected to weight management and a host of other health issues is cortisol. On top of each of your kidneys is a small adrenal gland. These glands help regulate blood pressure, metabolism, immune function, and the sleep/wake cycle. During times of stress, the brain sends a signal to the adrenal glands to increase cortisol levels. The result is an increase in blood pressure due to an increase in heart rate and increased blood flow. Additionally, the body releases glucose to help energize muscles that are needed for the “fight or flight” response. These are the physical responses of a body getting ready to handle a dangerous situation. Other things can also stimulate an increased amount of cortisol besides what we would typically describe as stress. Medications, adrenal tumors, and health conditions like Cushing’s are some examples of why someone might be experiencing higher than normal cortisol levels. With the higher level of cortisol there is a related higher level of circulating glucose, higher percent of belly fat, and higher levels of hunger.
What can be done to keep your hormones in line and help with attaining weight loss goals? Firstly is Dr. Steph’s “Plate Rule” which can be found in the books Defeat Diabetes and Lose the Gluten, Lose your Gut, Ditch the Grain, Save your Brain (visit www.LivingHealthMarket.com to pick up a copy). If for three meals a day, you are covering your plate in the “sticks and leaves” vegetables, a small portion of protein, and a serving of healthy fats, but still are finding it hard to lose weight, then hormonal testing might be a good option.
Evaluating your hormones is a great step towards figuring out what plan will work best. Saliva and blood tests are an effective course to figure out how balanced or imbalanced hormones may be (call the office at 410-216-9180 to schedule a hormone evaluation). Exercise, sleep, stress management, and a healthy diet are the pillars of health and are essential for healthy weight management. These are also essential for healthy and balanced hormone levels. With the right diet and supplements these components of a healthy lifestyle are achievable. Some of the supplements we recommend for healthy weight and hormones are listed below.
- Living Health Paleo Detox Kit - click here to view
- Crave Curb - click here to view
- Liver Max - click here to view
Yan, Hui et al. “Estrogen Improves Insulin Sensitivity and Suppresses Gluconeogenesis via the Transcription Factor Foxo1.” Diabetes vol. 68,2 (2019): 291-304. doi:10.2337/db18-0638
Menopause, Perimenopause and Postmenopause. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2020, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15224-menopause-perimenopause-and-postmenopause
Traish, Abdulmaged M. “Testosterone and weight loss: the evidence.” Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity vol. 21,5 (2014): 313-22. doi:10.1097/MED.4102169180000086
Adrenal Glands. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/adrenal-glands
How the Fight or Flight Response Works. (2019, August 21). Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://www.stress.org/how-the-fight-or-flight-response-works
Leptin. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/leptin#:~:text=Leptin%2C%20a%20hormone%20released%20from,one%20meal%20to%20the%20next.