If you find that you have gained weight and weight loss is not happening no matter what you do, you may have a problem with the hormones that prevent weight loss.
The struggle to lose weight when hormones are out of balance is a common one. Unfortunately for the most part many people affected by this problem are not aware of what is going on.
All they know is that pounds have piled up and they are not budging. But the problem is an imbalance in hormones that control weight.
You may know that hormones have the power to prevent weight loss. Or that there is such a thing as hormonal weight gain. But have you ever wondered what hormones cause weight gain, or prevent weight loss?
Kowing the hormones holding you hostage, literary, sometimes making you eat more, or even feel so fatigued you don’t want to do anything is important.
Once you know what is going on then you can use hormone balancing strategies and other effective approaches to lose weight and feel healthier.
Let’s dive right in and talk about hormones that make it very hard to lose weight.
Hormones that cause weight gain and prevent weight loss
Insulin is the hormone in charge of controlling blood sugar. It is also responsible for storing glucose when blood sugar is in excess. And insulin also turns glucose into fat when there is too much blood sugar.
You see, insulin is released into the bloodstream after every meal and is supposed to act as a key to open the cells and to usher blood sugar into the cell for energy.
But when there is too much blood sugar in circulation, more and more insulin is released and it keeps banging on the door of the cells until these cells just learn to ignore insulin because truly they have had enough. The cells become insensitive to insulin.
Still, more and more insulin is produced in an effort to curb the excess sugar.
And that is when a condition called insulin resistance results. When cells don’t respond to insulin, insulin then turns that excess sugar into fat. This fat is then stored and in many cases mostly around the middle giving one a hormonal belly. And that type of fat is called visceral fat and accumulates around the abdominal organs such as the liver, and the pancreas, still making the situation much worse.
To avoid this scenario you should be careful about avoiding foods that are;
- Full of simple sugars like sodas, cakes, candy, and many prepackaged foods, and many processed foods.
- Get moving so the muscle cells can use the blood sugar especially after a meal.
- Be sure to sleep enough because lack of quality sleep throws your metabolism off including causing problems with insulin metabolism.
- See your doctor because there may be another problem causing insulin resistance such as an unhealthy pancreas.
Leptin is a satiety hormone that is produced by fat cells and is secreted in the bloodstream to let one know they have eaten enough during a meal. It controls appetite.
Leptin acts on specific areas of the brain that control appetite when you have eaten enough.
And a leptin insensitivity can occur causing obesity. But obesity can also lead to leptin hormone insensitivity.
People with more fats cells tend to also have an excess of leptin because more and more is being produced to carb appetite but the person with an insensitivity doesn’t respond to its effect.
It seems there is a misfiring somewhere and the brain is not getting the message that one has eaten enough. This of course leads to increased appetite and more and more weight gain.
Ghrelin is a hunger hormone that is produced in the stomach and the intestines.
Ghrelin secretion sends a message to your brain ( the hypothalamus ) and lets you know you are hungry and need to eat. Studies have shown that obese people are much more sensitive to this hormone leading to overeating.
Ghrelin levels are usually high before you eat and get lower after a meal but for some people, the levels only dip a little this 2009 study found, and so the brain fails to get a strong enough message that no more food is needed.
So how can this be prevented or at least managed?
You can turn this around by eating more protein with your meals and reducing sugar intake.
To this end, steer clear of high fructose corn syrup one of the most inflammatory sugar there is.
High fructose corn syrup is hiding in many things so be sure to read labels when purchasing packaged and bottled foods and condiments to avoid it.
The thyroid hormone is produced in the thyroid gland-a butterfly structure located on the base of the neck and is one of the most important hormones in the human body.
Thyroid hormones control all cellular metabolic functions that require oxygen consumption and they even alter cellular sensitivity to other hormones. So they are a big deal in your health.
The thyroid produces hormones T3 and T4 which have vast influences on the body.
And according to this article in Michigan Medicine thyroid hormones( “regulate the metabolic rate, heart rate, and they can raise or lower body temperature, influence the rate at which food is moved through the gut, control muscle contraction, and control the rate at which dying cells are replaced”).
All these actions can affect weight. If the thyroid is slow, the weight will accumulate and be difficult to shed.
Sometimes thyroid problems occur. These can be either Hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. And the causes of thyroid dysfunction are many including:
- inflammation due to lifestyle, a viral or bacterial infection.
- autoimmune disease ( Hashimoto)
- pregnancy can cause a thyroid problem or make an existing worse.
- modules, noncancerous lumps, and cancerous tumors
- radiation or surgical removal to remove cancerous tumors.
Surgical removal is one cause of hypothyroidism
And in hypothyroidism, the thyroid is sluggish or not working at all. If surgically removed of course there is no thyroid and one must have a thyroid hormone replacement such as levothyroxine.
Of course, a sluggish thyroid means metabolic process slow way down and indeed can be so slow as to cause a serious condition called myxedema, a dangerous fluid overload that can lead to death.
A slow thyroid makes one tired. And a tired fatigued person has no energy to exercise well compounding the weight problem.
They may also not have the energy to shop and cook healthy food and resort to eating unhealthy leading to even more weight.
Other problems in hypothyroidism include depression, constipation, thinning hair, dry skin, and hair, and feeling cold a lot, and many other health issues.
What to do…
- If you suspect thyroid dysfunction, contact your doctor and request a full thyroid panel, not just TSH and T4 that is commonly done. The routine test can show a functioning thyroid when there is still a problem.
- Also, make sure you are eating foods rich in selenium, iodine, B-vitamins, zinc, and B vitamins. These nutrients are needed for thyroid function.
- Be careful with goitrogen foods. Make sure to cook them to inactivate the goitrogens.
- Avoid gluten to keep down inflammation.
- Avoid plastic esp those that contain bisphenol. Use stainless steel containers for water, and store food in a glass container, but it must use plastic to make sure they are bisphenol-free.
Cortisol is a stress hormone. It is supposed to help you act to save yourself in times of stress. During a stressful situation, the brain signals the pituitary glands to release cortisol. Cortisol breaks down proteins and fats for energy and roundups stored glucose in muscles and the liver to provide the energy needed for the ordeal at hand.
In real danger, all these resources of energy would be used up so fat gain would not occur.
The problem is that continued low-grade stress doesn’t really require all this energy but still encourages one to hunker for fattening energy-dense foods and high sodium foods.
Also, we do know that many people tend to eat more when stressed, research shows those with high levels of cortisol when put in stressful situations, tended to eat more, and also preferred sweet and high-calorie foods, which eventually lead to weight gain.
High cortisol also raises insulin, a fat-storing hormone. And research shows evidence that there a correlation between stress and abdominal fat storage.
For most of us in the modern world, we are overtaxing our cortisol production. Cortisol is produced in preparation and helps us cope with a brief stressful situation such as being face to face with a bear, a lion, or some other danger like a marauding enemy tribe.
A surge of cortisol is released so we can fight or flee. But unfortunately, we exist in a state of chronic stress running from one modern stressor to another.
We are stressed every day at work, running around trying to do all the things. We are stressed due to money worries, de to relationships, and the list goes on and on. So cortisol keeps being pumped out.
What can one do to stop this low-grade stress situation and stop the weight gain?
The key to the reversal of elevated cortisol is really in adjusting your lifestyle.
- enough sleep,
- eating healthy nutrition,
- exercising, but not extremely. A simple walk or yoga is good to keep you calm and lower cortisol.
- being more mindful.
Trim the fat, in the things you chose to worry about. The key is reducing the stress in your life as much as possible. You can see this post about more ways to reduce stress naturally.
Estrogen is primarily a reproductive hormone but has many more functions in the human body. And estrogen imbalance affects weight.
In puberty and throughout the reproductives period estrogen promotes fat deposit in the hips to promote fertility.
And more fat is also stored during pregnancy. But as estrogen levels become low in menopause, fat is stored more around the belly and this fat is usually had to lose.
Also, low estrogen leads to muscle loss, and muscle is replaced with fat mainly around the belly.
This visceral fat eventually leads to insulin resistance more weight gain and an insulin-resistant domino effect.
Unfortunately, low estrogen can happen due to other issues like PCOS, or ovarian surgery, and among many other problems is weight gain following these conditions.
Growth hormone is produced in the pituitary gland and is responsible for height and build muscle and bone building especially in the early years.
Too little during GH during early development years can lead to dwarfism and too much GH causes acromegaly.
Growth hormone also affects cellular growth and regeneration (source).
and also affects metabolism.
It has been found that in some cases there are lower levels of circulating growth hormones in obese people than those with normal weight.
Lower growth hormone can also lead to insulin resistance and weight gain around the middle. And also reduced muscle mass and low bone density due to low growth hormone also lead to fat accumulation.
What can you do if you have low growth hormone? First, work closely with your doctor if you decide to supplement.
But you can also increase growth hormone naturally by eating healthy food especially high in vitamin C.
Exercising also helps.
GLP1 is glucagon like peptide 1 hormone produced in the gut after a meal. And there are many other peptide hormones also produced in the gut.
Surprisingly, the gut is the largest endocrine organ in the body secreting over 30 Peptide hormones and that are stimulated by gut nutrient content and they interact with various receptors on the gut-brain axis affecting feelings of hunger or fullness.
GLP1 stimulates insulin release, inhibits glucagon release, keeps blood sugar within the right range, and helps you to feel full after meal studies have shown including this 1998 clinical trial.
GLP1 decreases gastric emptying and acts on the brain to induce satiety making you feel full longer and thus decreasing appetite.
But what causes GPL1 imbalance?
It is likely that that GLP1 imbalance can stem from inflammation and a leaky gut.
Try the following to increase GLP1:
- Eat healthily and include anti-inflammatory foods
- increasing intake of leafy greens like spinach
- include high protein foods,
- high protein intake
- eat more probiotics foods like yogurt, Kimchi, Kombucha. See this list of the best healthy gut foods.
Promoting gut health can help promote the production of GLP1. See this guide on how to heal a leaky gut.
Related post: How to heal inflammation naturally.
The YYpetide and GLp1 are released together after a meal and signal satiety.
Peptide YY is released from the intestines and colon after a meal and is also responsible for inducing satiety. PYY works with the brain to signal fullness after a meal to control appetite and is released within 15 minutes of eating study states.
According to this study, CCK is a peptide that is widely distributed in the GI tract as well as the CNS and affects the gallbladder and pancreatic contraction, the secretion of gastric acid, and gastric emptying, and suppression of energy intake ( eating).
Another 20212 study in Nutrition and Diabetes shows CCK effect on appetite during the meal and after.
The question though remains, why CCK levels do not rise in some individuals leading to overeating and obesity.
To increase your CCK level to stave off appetite and excess eating here are a few things you can do:
- making sure to eat high protein foods
- healthy foods full of fiber
- healthy fats to increase satiety.
Testosterone imbalance can also prevent weight loss and lead to weight gain in both men and women. Women do produce some testosterone but not as much as men of course.
Testerone is important in maintaining muscle mass, and skin tone.
A decrease in testosterone as we age is normal but unfortunately leads to fat gain, as muscles are replaced by fat, contributes to skin sagging and wrinkles.
For young men and women with low T, causes may be other issues such as alcohol consumption and obesity ( in which case the question may arise .did obesity cause low testosterone, or did low testosterone cause obesity?)
unfortunately, there are very many causes of low testosterone including:
- injury in the testis
- liver diseases
- inflammatory conditions such as sarcoidosis and more per this article in the Cleveland Clinic blog.
While you cant help aging and other unfortunate illness or even injury, you can decrease inflammation by avoiding alcohol, toxins and eating healthy.
How to avoid hormonal weight gain
In essense these are the actions to take to decrease weight gain caused by hormonal imbalances.
I know. I wish there was a magic pill for this. But exercise is so beneficial in so many ways.
While exercise of course provides calorie expenditure and burns fat.
Mild to moderate activity study found improved leptin sensitivity and therefore can reduce weight gain
Yoga is calming and so is the best antidote for stress and one way to lower cortisol levels and combat stress eating, and accumulation of stress weight and fat distribution to the belly and shoulders typical in cases of high cortisol levels.
Sleep enough and well
A study published in Aviation, Space Environmental Medicine on helicopter pilots. The study found that during the 7 day straight duty periods, sleep was reduced from 7.8 hours to 6 hours or less, resulting in a 15hour sleep deficit.
And during this period, cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenalin levels rose by 50-80% and remained elevated for two more days after duty.
So the lesson here is that you need to make sure you are sleeping enough.
If you need to improve your sleep I have more tips on how to sleep better at night, as well as how to sleep better when you have nighttime anxiety.
And one more way to better your sleep is putting in place a soothing nighttime routine.
Sleep also improved leptin levels according to the study.
Not sleeping enough decreased leptin levels.
We have seen how high fructose corn syrup affects health and hormonal balance. Research shows that high corn fructose syrup such as in soft drinks affects ghrelin levels causing one to eat more. And can lead to obesity.
Also, as you may now know, too much sugar leads to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.
Sugar also causes inflammation, contributing further to obesity, hormonal imbalance, estrogen dominance, and many other illnesses.
Eat more protein
Eating more protein improves leptin sensitivity and ghrelin sensitivity as well. Eating more proteins makes you feel full more and also decreases stomach emptying. Also, protein improves hormonal balance especially insulin.
Eat a healthy anti-inflammatory diet.
One very important way to control the hormones keeping you from losing weight is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
Hormone imbalances are many times caused by inflammation that damages the way these hormones function. It is known that obesity is an inflammatory condition.
In fact, inflammation is responsible for the reduced production of GLP1 research found.
Hormonal imbalance contributes to weight gain and makes it harder to lose weight. And while there are many causes of hormonal imbalances that prevent weight loss, there are some things we can do to improve health and to prevent excess weight.
It is not easy for many people with hormonal weight gain to lose weight. But the lifestyle changes listed can help.
Also talking to your doctor, seeing a naturopathic doctor, and working with a health coach can help reduce weight gain and balance hormones that prevent weight loss.
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This is such a great article. I really wish more doctors would do extensive hormone testing on overweight women.
You know you are right, there are so many hormonal imbalances that lead to weight problems and more needs to be done.