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Sometimes we forget that weight loss is more than what you eat and how much you move. Believe it or not, hormones have a lot to do with your ability to achieve a healthy weight. At The Wellness Way, we explain that the body functions like a finely tuned Swiss Watch. No one system operates without impacting another. So, when one system or organ is dysfunctional, it affects the whole body. With this in mind, let’s examine how hormones influence weight management. 

What Are Hormones?

Hormones are “chemical messengers.” They’re produced by glands in the endocrine system and then released into the bloodstream. They help regulate various body functions. Just a few of these include growth and development, metabolism, and reproductive processes. Hormones are necessary for maintaining homeostasis or balance in the body. They influence the body by binding to specific receptors on cells, which can then trigger a range of physiological responses. Different hormones have different functions and can affect a wide variety of processes in the body.

More than Estrogens and Testosterone

When we talk about hormones, most people immediately think of estrogen levels and high or low testosterone. The fact is, there are so many more than these primary sex hormones at play. Hormone imbalances can trigger a cascade of dysfunction. Hormones are crucial in regulating metabolism and energy balance (calories). For that reason, imbalances in certain hormones can contribute to weight gain. They can also make it more challenging to lose weight.

Some hormones that may affect weight loss include:

  • Thyroid hormones: The thyroid gland produces hormones that help to regulate metabolism. Imbalances in thyroid hormone levels, either too high or too low, can affect weight.
  • Cortisol: The adrenal glands produce cortisol to help regulate metabolism and energy balance. High cortisol levels can lead to weight gain, particularly in the abdominal area.
  • Insulin: The pancreas produces insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. the pancreas produces insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance is what happens when the body becomes less sensitive to insulin. Since the blood sugar stays elevated longer, it can lead to weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
  • Ghrelin and Leptin: These two hormones regulate appetite and energy balance. Ghrelin makes you hungry (“Grrrr”) and stimulates cravings. Leptin makes you feel satiated. Imbalances in these hormones can affect appetite and food intake, which can impact weight.
  • Neuropeptide Y (NPY): This hormone is a neurotransmitter. It’s involved in regulating appetite and energy metabolism.
  • Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1): This hormone is produced in the gut in response to food intake. It helps to regulate glucose metabolism and appetite.
  • Cholecystokinin (CKK): The small intestine releases CKK in the presence of fat and protein.
  • Peptide YY (PYY): The intestine produces this amino acid peptide in response to food ingestion.

Thyroid and Hormones

The thyroid gland produces two hormones that help regulate the metabolic rate. These are thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Imbalances in these hormones can either slow or speed up metabolism, affecting weight.

Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism or “Low Thyroid” is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. Hypothyroidism can cause weight gain and difficulty losing weight. When thyroid hormones are low, the body is slow. Hypothyroidism can slow metabolism and make it more difficult to burn calories.

Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. It’s overactive or “hyper.” Abnormally high levels of activity can cause weight loss. Weight loss occurs because an excess of thyroid hormone can speed up metabolism and cause the body to burn calories more quickly.

Cortisol and Weight Loss

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland that helps to regulate metabolism and energy balance. Cortisol is often called the stress hormone and can lead to high blood pressure. Cortisol levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day and can also be affected by stress, exercise, and sleep factors.

Elevated cortisol levels can contribute to weight gain. This mainly happens in the abdominal area, leading to the dreaded “belly fat.” Some people even call it a “cortisol belly.” This weight gain occurs because cortisol can stimulate fat production in the body. Cortisol can also interfere with the body’s ability to break down fat. High cortisol can increase your appetite, making it even more challenging to lose weight.

On the other hand, low cortisol levels can also be a problem, as cortisol helps to regulate metabolism and energy balance. Low cortisol levels can cause fatigue, weakness, and difficulty losing weight.

Insulin and Weight Loss

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Insulin is most known for its interaction with carbohydrates, moving glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. Insulin resistance what happens when the body becomes less sensitive to insulin. It’s a significant contributor to weight gain and difficulty in losing weight. This is because insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar levels. The body responds by increasing insulin production and fat storage.

High insulin levels can also stimulate the production of hunger-inducing hormones like ghrelin. Since ghrelin increases appetite, it may make it difficult to feel full and satisfied after eating. The increase in ghrelin can also lead to overeating and weight gain.

Insulin resistance is a part of metabolic syndrome, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The loss of insulin sensitivity can lead to other states of dysfunction, including heart disease. 

Ghrelin and Weight Management

Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus of the brain. Commonly known as the hunger hormone, it plays a significant role in regulating appetite and energy metabolism. Some research suggests ghrelin may be involved in weight gain and obesity. It makes sense because ghrelin stimulates hunger and can increase fat storage in the body. A better understanding of ghrelin levels may uncover some roadblocks to fat loss.

Leptin and Weight

Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells that helps to regulate appetite and energy metabolism. It acts on the hypothalamus in the brain to reduce hunger and increase energy expenditure. Some research has suggested that people who are obese may struggle with leptin resistance. They may continue to feel hungry even when they have enough energy stored in their bodies. Leptin levels can explain why some people struggle to feel satiated.

Neuropeptide Y (NPY) and Weight Management

Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain and the nervous system. It is involved in a wide range of physiological functions. Just a few of these include appetite regulation, energy metabolism, and the stress response. NPY is released in response to stress or in times of energy need and can stimulate hunger and increase body fat. Some research has suggested NPY may be involved in obesity. It increases one’s desire for high-fat, high-sugar foods. It also reduces energy expenditure.

Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and Weight Loss

GLP-1 acts on the brain to reduce appetite and food intake and stimulates insulin production, which helps to lower blood sugar levels. Some research has suggested that GLP-1 may be involved in weight loss, as it can help reduce body weight and fat mass.

Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) is a hormone produced in the gut in response to food intake. It helps to regulate glucose metabolism and appetite. GLP-1 is released by cells in the gastrointestinal tract called L cells. It’s only active for a short period before being broken down by enzymes.

GLP-1 has several physiological effects. For one, it can help reduce body weight and fat mass. It may also improve glucose control. It works in two ways: by stimulating insulin, and by decreasing glucagon. Glucagon would otherwise raise blood sugar levels. In addition, GLP-1 can slow gastric emptying and increase the feeling of fullness, which can help to reduce food intake.

Cholecystokinin (CKK) and Weight Loss

Cholecystokinin (CCK) is a hormone produced in the small intestine in response to fat and protein in the diet. It acts on the brain to reduce appetite and food intake. It also stimulates the contraction of the gallbladder, releasing bile into the small intestine to aid in the digestion of fats.

CCK has several physiological effects that support healthy body weight. It can improve glucose control and may decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. In addition, CCK can increase the feeling of fullness and satiety, which can help to reduce food intake.

Peptide YY and Weight Loss

Peptide YY (PYY) is an amino acid peptide produced in the intestine in response to food ingestion. It acts on the hypothalamus and other areas of the brain to reduce appetite and food intake. It also has effects on the pancreas, where it can stimulate insulin secretion. Studies have shown PYY as a potential target in addressing certain conditions. Beyond obesity, these include diabetes, eating disorders, and gastrointestinal disorders.

What Can You Do to Support Hormones and Weight Loss?

If you are struggling to lose weight or are concerned about hormone levels, there are several steps you can take:

  • Eat Healthy: Adopt a healthy diet that aligns with your nutrition goals and allergies.
  • Get regular physical activity — exercise! When done correctly, physical activity can help improve many functions and hormones. It can also help you build muscle mass. 
  • Lose the excess weight: The body functions better when it isn’t carrying extra weight. Men may do well with intermittent fasting, but only under the direction of your Wellness Way practitioner.
  • Reduce Stress: Studies show poor stress management negatively impacts the body and hormones. Stress management can help regulate cortisol levels, heart rate, and blood pressure. 
  • Get enough sleep: Over time, a lack of sleep can deplete hormones and cause additional stress on the body.
  • Take appropriate supplements: Your Wellness Way practitioner can determine which supplements will best support your hormones.

It’s important to note that many factors can affect weight loss, including diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits. Women going through menopause may need extra support. When you need additional guidance or to see how well your body is functioning, reach out to a Wellness Way clinic. Hormonal imbalance may play a role, but that is simply one piece of the puzzle. We can assess your hormone levels and show you how to support your body to function optimally. Hormones and weight loss are more closely linked than you might think. When you restore function in the body, you’ll reap many rewards. One of those may include achieving a healthy weight. 

Resources

  1. Physiology, Cortisol—NIH
  2. Insulin and Insulin Resistance—PubMed
  3. Leptin, Obesity, and Leptin Resistance: Where Are We 25 Years Later?
  4. Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis
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