Have you ever thought there must be more to losing weight than just dieting and exercise? Well, it turns it you are right! Gaining and losing weight can be due to many things, for example: Sleep deprivation, nutritional imbalances, genetics, environmental toxins, gut flora imbalances, food addictions, allergies, and inflammation. (1) Frequently ignored is the impact of hormones on weight and metabolism. Hormones determine what your body does with food; therefore, balanced hormones are crucial to controlling weight.
In men and women, hormone production declines with age which can trigger a sluggish metabolism and weight gain. Body shape changes (almost always an indicator of hormonal imbalance) with fat appearing around your middle, belly, breast, and arms. (2) Hormones affecting weight in both men and women are cortisol, insulin, thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. When any of these are imbalanced, hormonal disorders ensue causing weight gain and or difficulty losing weight.
Stress — real or imagined — throws the body into panic mode and cortisol is released into the bloodstream. Cortisol raises blood sugar and breaks down fat for energy. This response is lifesaving when faced with life threatening situations. When the immediate stress ends, cortisol rises, leading to craving for fatty, salty, sugary foods to replenish the source of energy that was just depleted. Then cortisol falls to normal levels. Prolonged stress leads to continuously high levels of cortisol which causes continual excess calorie intake. Since these calories aren’t needed immediately, they get deposited as abdominal fat. (3) Chronically elevated cortisol keeps blood sugar elevated which can lead to insulin resistance.
Sugar (glucose) stimulates the release of insulin which carries glucose into cells to be used as fuel. When cells have received enough glucose, excess gets stored as fat, especially in the belly and buttocks. Insulin resistance is when the body produces insulin but cells are less sensitive to it. As a result, the pancreas will pump out increasingly more insulin, but the insulin is unable to push glucose into cells. This excess circulating insulin causes sugar cravings, increased appetite, and weight gain.
This hormone regulates the metabolism of every cell in the body. When the thyroid gland is not making enough of this hormone, it’s called hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism causes a slowing of most bodily functions. Sometimes, people have symptoms of low thyroid including fatigue, hair loss, sluggishness, weight gain and or difficulty losing weight. However, their lab tests are normal. (4) This is a source of great stress for individuals who know something is wrong but the cause is not obvious. Thyroid hormone needs to be suspected and tested properly.
Testosterone, Estrogen, and Progesterone
As men and women age, testosterone levels decrease, leading to a loss of muscle and bone, accumulation of belly fat, and decreased metabolism. The effect is more severe in men because their testosterone levels are much greater to begin with. Ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone in women starting as early as age 35. When estrogen is not in correct balance with other hormones (primarily progesterone), weight gain can occur. Signs of estrogen excess are weight gain around the abdomen, hips, and thigh, water retention and abdominal bloating. Estrone, the main estrogen in menopause, shifts fat from hips to abdomen. Progesterone helps the body utilize and eliminate fat and increases metabolism. Excess progesterone production relative to estrogen leads to an increased appetite and fat storage. (5,6)
To prevent weight gain from hormonal imbalance:
1. Limit carbohydrate intake
2. Reduce stress
3. Have hormones levels checked and balanced
4. Take a probiotic
5. Exercise 45 minutes, 5 days/week
To learn more about medical weight loss and how it might be able to help your patients control the effect of hormones on weight and metabolism, click here.
1. Smith, P., “Why you can't lose weight: why it's so hard to shed pounds and what you can do about it.” Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers, 2011
2. Smith, P., “What You Must Know about Women’s Hormones,” Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers, 2010
3. Epel, E, et al., “Can stress reshape your body? Consistently grater stress-induced cortisol secretion among women with abdominal fat” Psychosomatic Med 2000; (62):623-632
4. Brownstein, D., “Overcoming Thyroid Disorders.” West Bloomfield, MI: Medical Alternatives Press, 2002
5. Kalkoff, R, et al., “Metabolic Effects of Progesterone “Journal Obstetrics Gynecology, 1982: 142-146
6. Vliet, E., “Women, Weight and Hormones.” New York: M. Evans & Company, 2001
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.