Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. They travel throughout your bloodstream to aid in optimal organ functionality. If your hormones are not functioning properly or are at abnormal levels, there can be an imbalance in your body that can cause weight gain, hair loss, infertility, and so much more. In the first part of this blog series, I discussed three hormones that affect not only your weight but your appetite—insulin, leptin, insulin. Today we are going to talk about the other three hormones that play a role in regulating your weight—thyroid, estrogen and androgens, and cortisol.
Hormones Responsible for Weight Control
Though scientists do know that thyroid hormones regulate your body’s metabolism, the exact relationship between thyroid hormones, metabolism, and weight changes is a complex one that isn’t well-understood. When your thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones (hypothyroidism), your metabolism slows down, which reduces the number of calories your body burns and often leads to weight gain.
Conversely, when your thyroid is producing too many hormones (hyperthyroidism), your metabolism goes into overdrive, burning more calories than normal and likely resulting in weight loss.
However, this is a simplistic picture of the various factors that are involved in these processes. Maintaining an ideal body weight is a complicated process that involves optimal hormone levels, adequate caloric intake, and calorie expenditure (movement).
What to do: Eat foods that promote a healthy lifestyle, get plenty of exercise, and take supplements that support your thyroid.
Body fat distribution plays an important role in the development of obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and some forms of arthritis. It seems that estrogens and androgens (testosterone) help to decide body fat distribution.
Estrogens are sex hormones made by the ovaries in premenopausal women. They are responsible for prompting ovulation during every menstrual cycle. Women also produce a hormone named progesterone. It is also common for progesterone levels to decrease during menopause.
Progesterone’s role in weight gain is more deceiving; low levels of the hormone do not actually cause you to gain weight, but instead, cause water retention or bloating. This annoying side effect makes you feel heavier and makes your clothes fit tighter.
Testosterone in a woman works to build and maintain muscle mass among other things. These muscle cells work to burn calories in your body and cause a higher metabolism. Levels of this hormone decrease during menopause causing the loss of muscle mass and hence resulting in lower metabolism (aka weight gain).
Both men and women produce testosterone and estrogen but in different amounts.
Men and postmenopausal women do not produce much estrogen in their testes (testicles) or ovaries. Instead, most of their estrogen is produced in their body fat, although at much lower amounts than what is produced in premenopausal ovaries. In younger men, androgens are produced at high levels in the testes. As a man gets older, these levels gradually decrease.
The changes with age in the sex hormone levels of both men and women are associated with changes in body fat distribution. While women of childbearing age tend to store fat in their lower body (‘pear-shaped’), older men and postmenopausal women tend to increase storage of fat around their abdomen (‘apple-shaped’).
What to do: To limit your estrogen levels, eat a diet rich in fiber, get plenty of exercise, and eat your kale, Brussels, and broccoli.
No discussion on hormones and weight control would not be complete without mentioning Cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone, produced by the adrenal gland when the body is under stress. Cortisol is released as part of your daily hormonal cycle, but can also be released in reaction to perceived stress — both physical and emotional — as part of the body’s fight-or-flight response that is essential for survival. Cortisol helps your body become even more effective at producing glucose from proteins. However, it can also promote glucose dysregulation—contributing to weight gain.
Similarly, cortisol is designed to help quickly increase the body’s energy in times of stress. Yet, chronic levels of increased cortisol can lead to stress eating, overeating, and thus, weight gain.
What to do: Be sure to limit your amount of stress by getting enough sleep at night, practicing stress-relieving activities, and eating a balanced diet.
Now you know some of the key hormones that play a part in your weight. So be sure to engage in healthy living habits and prevent imbalance in your body’s hormone levels to promote optimal health. At Bariatric Centers of America, some of our partner clinics offer medical weight loss services, as well as surgical, to help you achieve your weight loss goals. They will assist in maintaining proper hormone function to aid in weight loss and optimal living.