Ever wonder how hormones affect weight loss?
At Higher Health, we work with clients who eat well, exercise and are doing what seems to be all the right things to lose weight.
But the weight still won’t come off, or a plateau has been hit and the few final pounds refuse to go!!!
If this sounds familiar, odds are, your hormones may be out of balance.
Keep reading to find out where we see the most common hormonal imbalances playing a role in preventing you from achieving your weight loss goals.
Hormones, Blood Sugar and Insulin:
Our body secretes insulin in response to higher levels of blood glucose to bring blood glucose levels down, and allow glucose (sugar) entry into our cells. When your blood sugar is fluctuating frequently, this influences the production of insulin, and promotes fat production. In addition, blood sugar fluctuations provoke sugar cravings, further exacerbating the blood sugar insulin roller coaster.
When our body has a blood sugar issue like insulin resistance, it demands more sugar which can cause you to crave those sweet, calorically dense, nutrient void foods. The more frequently your blood sugar level spikes, the more your body produces insulin, and this can increase the risk of insulin resistance leading to further problems including inflammation and hormonal chaos. Assessing for insulin resistance, and keeping a stable blood sugar level is key for weight loss.
Cortisol and Adrenal Stress Hormones
Oh cortisol, our master stress hormone. “I’m not that stressed”, says the full time working mom running around on fumes all day. Often, we are expected to do it all; work life, cooking, cleaning, parenting, errands and a social life in between. We somehow accept that feeling tired, overworked, and burnt out is normal.
Some symptoms that may indicate your stress levels may be higher than you think, and on the verge of burnout include:
- Feeling tired, either all day or that slump in the afternoon
- You feel you never have enough time in the day to complete the things you need to get done
- You feel overwhelmed
- You find you’re snapping at things or people you wouldn’t otherwise have
- And you feel you are constantly on overdrive.
This is your sympathetic nervous system working overtime, that fight or flight mode that is only supposed to be used in emergencies to help keep us alive.
Our adrenal glands which sit on top of our kidneys, secrete a hormone called cortisol which responds to these periods of stress. In short bursts or acute situations, our body’s response to cortisol is necessary and warranted. However, over prolonged periods of sympathetic activation, stress, and cortisol secretion we see blood glucose spikes, insulin resistance, weight gain around the abdomen, brain fog, decreased mental and physical performance, amongst other things.
What does this look like?
You may get hit with some serious cravings for foods you know aren’t nutritious for you, but the cravings are so powerful you can’t control them. Next your body is going to send signals to eat more high sugary foods, because it think it’s in danger or there is a threat, so it thinks it needs more glucose (energy) fast. In addition, under chronic stress our body decreases muscle mass.
Decreased muscle mass also means less mitochondria (energy powerhouses of the cell), which further slows down our metabolism, meaning we burn less calories.
In addition, elevated levels of cortisol start affecting other hormones like insulin, thyroid hormones, and our reproductive hormones which only leads to further problems. Dealing with cortisol is often one of the very first steps when addressing weight loss. Nutrient repletion, adrenal support, and a holistic assessment can help give your adrenals the T.L.C. they most likely need and help you on your way towards your health goals.
Thyroid and Hormones:
Our thyroid is one of the master glands which controls our metabolism. It controls the way our body uses energy for a variety of functions throughout the body. For those that have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, either “hyper” or “hypo”, this indicates that your thyroid is demonstrating signs of dysfunction.
In a “hypo” state, the thyroid gland is under functioning. It is not producing enough thyroid hormone to drive our metabolism and use energy efficiently. This may include signs of weight gain, slowed heart rate, hair loss, brittle nails, dry skin, fatigue, constipation, and brain fog to name a few.
In a “hyper” state, we typically see the opposite.
When the thyroid gland is over producing, it causes the body’s metabolism to run in overdrive with additional energy expenditure.
This may look like:
- Increased sweating
- Feeling wired but tired
- Unintentional weight loss
In terms of weight loss, one of the major complaints we hear is weight gain despite doing all the things “right” or the frustration associated with the inability to lose weight.
This can be maddening for individuals because despite every diet or exercise routine, the reading on the scale just won’t budge. Could it be your thyroid? Your doctor told you your TSH level was fine, so therefore your thyroid was fine.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. Our Naturopathic Doctors at Higher Health are trained to look at a more comprehensive approach when assessing thyroid health and function. This includes a full thyroid panel, nutrients needed to optimize thyroid function, assessing any food intolerances and gut disturbances, and of course stress levels.
We know that chronic stress takes a toll on the thyroid, and hits it hard. Stress also depletes magnesium and selenium, essential nutrients needed for optimal thyroid function. The core foundations of thyroid health include optimizing digestion, sleep, stress, diet, exercise, and correcting deficiencies.
Leptin is a wonderful hormone secreted by our fat cells to communicate to the brain that you are full and should stop eating. It says to our brains that okay, we have enough fat stored, we don’t need to continue to eat, and we can burn calories at a stable rate. Leptin sounds great right? The issue is that when we gain weight we have higher circulating levels of leptin.
Higher levels of circulating leptin can lead to something we call leptin resistance, which basically means your brain doesn’t respond to the signals leptin is trying to send. When your brain doesn’t receive or can’t respond to leptin’s signal, it thinks your body is starving. As a response, your brain thinks that you must eat more in order to prevent starvation, and in an effort to conserve energy it reduces energy expenditure and slows down your metabolism.
A variety of potential mechanisms have been proposed with leptin resistance including inflammation, having elevated free fatty acids in the blood stream, and as mentioned having high circulating levels of leptin. A lot of times the reason yo-yo diets fail is due to fluctuating levels of leptin and its consequences on hunger and metabolism.
Estrogen levels that are either too high or too low can both cause weight gain. Low levels of estrogen can be the driving factors behind very stubborn weight gain, often around the abdomen, and especially for women during perimenopause/ menopausal years. As ovarian estrogen levels decline, it turns to other cells to produce estrogen including our adipose tissue.
In an attempt to balance this demand, our body starts converting extra energy sources into fat, which can lead to weight gain especially around midline. On the other hand, estrogen levels that are too high can irritate the cells in our body that produce insulin, our beta cells located in the pancreas.
This can lead to insulin resistance, causing blood sugar levels to rise and subsequent weight gain. In addition, higher levels of estrogen can impact thyroid function, which we know is one of the master glands regulating metabolism. Symptoms of estrogen dominance may include PMS, painful periods, breast tenderness, brain fog, lowered libido and weight gain. Luckily, our Naturopathic Doctors have training and advanced testing to assess estrogen levels!
When your hormones are in check you should feel like you have infinite energy, balanced moods, your cravings will disappear, and you can start hitting those weight loss goals. Speak to a member of our Higher Health Team today to help you determine if hormonal imbalances may be the root issue preventing you from losing that stubborn weight!
Book here for your Free no obligation consultation and join the over 2000 clients we have helped since 2011. Click here