Are you struggling to lose weight even though you are doing everything “right”? Are you gaining weight even if your diet and exercise routine has remained the same? If so, then your hormones may be partially to blame. I’m not just talking about your “sex hormones”, but also the hormones that control appetite or how we store/burn fat.
Hormones are special substances our bodies make that affect specific bodily functions. They also play a significant role in our ability to lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight. But when hormonal imbalances occur, it’s important for us to realize what is happening in our bodies and correct them in order to reach or maintain our weight loss goals.
To understand how hormonal imbalances affect our bodies, it’s first important to understand what some of these hormones actually do.
If I were to ask you what insulin does, you would probably tell me that it controls our blood sugar levels. And you would be right. Insulin does have an important job – it processes the sugar in our blood stream and carries it to our cells. It’s then used for energy or stored for later use. And how is it stored? The most efficient way to store energy for future use is in the form of fat. So actually, insulin lowers the blood sugar levels, helps carry sugar (glucose) to all of our cells and helps to store excess energy as fat for future use. Elevated levels of insulin (called hyperinsulinemia or high levels of insulin in the blood) can be caused by the excess consumption of carbohydrates. So the Standard American Diet (abbreviated “SAD”), high in carbohydrates such as processed foods and sugary beverages and in combination with a low protein and low fiber intake, can lead to the storage of fat, weight gain and high insulin levels. After a while, we become insulin-resistant and this along with a poor diet, alcohol consumption, stress and high blood pressure leads to a condition called Metabolic Syndrome. This is the beginning of Type 2 diabetes (or sugar diabetes).
Cortisol (or Cortisone)
Cortisol (or Cortisone) –
Cortisol is also called the “stress hormone” and high levels of cortisol can be harmful to our health. It’s also called the “Fight or Flight” hormone. What this means is that under extremely stressful situations, we might have to fight or flee from danger. So cortisol raises our blood sugar levels in anticipation of either using our muscles to fight or flee. And of course we need sugar to do this. Studies have shown that a high stress level can contribute to the accumulation of belly (or visceral) fat. Cortisol levels are higher in those of us who suffer from conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and excessive fatigue. In fact, those individuals whose jobs flip-flop from day to night shifts tend to gain weight and retain it more than those individuals who only work one shift. Not only does elevated cortisol levels in the blood lead to body fat, but it also increases our appetites and cravings. This is why we eat “comfort foods” when feeling increased amounts of stress. High cortisol levels have other harmful effects on our bodies. These include decreased bone density, memory loss and depression. Can we lower our cortisol levels? You bet – Get plenty of sleep (at least 7 or 8 hours each night), and find an good outlet to reduce your stress. Activities like yoga, meditation, walking or exercise have been shown to reduce stress levels.
Your Thyroid Gland
Your Thyroid Gland –
The thyroid gland is considered the “master gland” by a number of people because it is responsible for producing hormones that regulate our body’s metabolic rate, heart, digestive function, muscle control, brain development (especially in infants), and bone maintenance. Some of the newer research coming out suggests that fluoride in our water supply negatively affects our thyroid glands and that drinking fluoride-free water and fluoride-free toothpaste may be the way to go.
Leptin is a hormone that is produced in the small intestine to tell our brains that we’ve had enough to eat. It is part of a feedback system that controls our appetites. For example, when we are getting low on our blood sugar, the body produces a hormone called Ghrelin. What I like to tell my students is that “Ghrelin makes your stomach growl.” So you begin to search for food (remember – we’re still programmed like our ancient ancestors to “hunt and gather”). When our sugars begin to rise above normal, the body produces Leptin to tell the brain we’ve eaten enough. Unfortunately, when we are overweight or obese (and 2/3s of Americans are), we become Leptin-resistant. This means our brains ignore the feedback signal that we’ve eaten enough. So we keep eating and the weight stays on or increases. When we lose weight properly and “reset” our body’s ability to store excess energy in the form of fat, we lose the resistance to Leptin and use sugar for energy instead of storing it for fat. And remember, fat is used by our bodies for other things besides future energy – we store fat-soluble vitamins, hormones, pharmaceutical drugs and most importantly, toxins!
Your Sex Hormones
Estrogen, the reproductive hormone, is naturally produced by men and women. In man, small amounts of estrogen are produced in the adrenal glands or converted by an enzyme in the body. In women, estrogen is produced by the ovaries. An excess of fat in belly (or visceral) fat in men can cause testosterone to be converted into estrogen. As the estrogen levels rise in men, more fat accumulation occurs, causing the circle to continue. This can lead to prostate cancer and heart disease in men. But estrogen is different in women because both high and low levels of estrogen contribute to weight gain and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. And of course, estrogen levels can fluctuate throughout a woman’s reproductive life. If you suspect an estrogen imbalance, have your healthcare professional test your hormones. If an imbalance occurs, your healthcare professional can help guide you to the appropriate treatment. It’s also important for you to eat a healthy diet that includes green tea, flax seed and chia seeds that help your body in the processing of estrogen.
Testosterone, the “sex” hormone, is also produced both in men and women. Increased stress, with the resultant increase in cortisol levels), abdominal fat and aging all contribute to low testosterone levels (Low-T levels). Low-T can also lead to conditions such as obesity, depression, loss of muscle tone, decreased stamina and decreased libido with resultant erectile dysfunction. This can be detected by a simple blood test. Correcting testosterone levels, if low, can help men reduce their body fat, improve stamina and muscle mass and increase libido. Weight-bearing exercise and a diet high in protein (branch chain amino acids) can help naturally increase testosterone levels.
DHEA , also known as the “mother of all hormones.” is a precursor hormone made in our adrenal glands in both men and women. DHEA can be converted into testosterone or estrogen. DHEA levels usually reach its peak in our 20’s and then declines as we age. DHEA is also responsible in our body’s ability to burn fat and keep it off. Correcting an imbalance can improve libido, energy and weight loss.