Are Your Hormones Making You Fat?
Posted On Mar 30, 2017
Despite diets and exercise, do you still have love handles, belly fat, and cellulite? Chances are, a hormone imbalance is to blame.
For years, we’ve been taught that weight loss is a matter of calories in, calories out—we ingest high-quality, nutrient-dense calories and use strength-training and aerobic exercises to burn it off. Despite this straightforward mantra, many of us struggle with stubborn, unwanted belly fat, cellulite, and love handles. Weight gain, it turns out, isn’t just about that extra glass of wine or two at dinner, or a potato chip-and-dip binge on the couch. The impact of hormones may have something rather significant to do with those stubborn extra inches. Belly fat, cellulite, and love handles are often telltale signs of a hormonal imbalance in the body. In most cases, however, the issue can be controlled with diet modification and lifestyle changes.
WHAT ARE HORMONES, AND HOW DO THEY AFFECT OUR WEIGHT?
Hormones are “messenger” substances produced by our glands, and are part of the endocrine system. Hormones provide instructions for the body to follow to maintain optimal function. Hormones affect every physiological, psychological, and emotional aspect of our lives, including appetite, metabolism, and where and how we store fat. While our bodies produce more than 70 hormones, seven of them—insulin, thyroid, cortisol, estrogen, leptin, testosterone, and growth hormone— seem to have the greatest impact on our weight and storage of fat.
“Insulin is released in proportion to the amount of sugar in our blood stream, and when there’s too much sugar, it tells the body to store that energy as fat,” says Natasha Turner, N.D., author of The Supercharged Hormone Diet. The more sugar in your diet—particularly carbohydrates from white sugar and white flour—the more resistant your body becomes to the action of insulin, which means you store more calories as fat. Insulin resistance is a huge health concern, and a major contributor to the global obesity epidemic. Storing fat in the belly, love handles, and upper arms is a telltale sign of insulin resistance, as are intense cravings for sugary foods. Avoiding foods made with refined sugar and flour will go a long way in improving insulin levels.
Thyroid hormones are responsible for the metabolism of every cell in the body. Thyroid imbalance often manifests itself as constipation, irregular menstrual cycles, depression, hair loss, and dry skin. “Gluten molecules resemble thyroid and interfere with the action of thyroid, slowing metabolism,” says Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Reset Diet. “There are many non-nutrients in today’s grains and grain products that can block the action of thyroid hormones.” Quick thyroid fixes include: taking small meals throughout the day and avoiding gluten when possible.
The hormone cortisol stimulates the breakdown of fat in adipose tissue, and is greatly impacted by stress levels. Cortisol imbalances result in stored belly fat and increased insulin levels. “Chronic stress—such as a loud, disruptive work environment or a long travel commute to work—raise cortisol levels,” notes Turner. “Seventy-four percent of us are sleep deprived, which also increases cortisol.” Quick fixes for cortisol level imbalance include the achievement of quality sleep and limiting of alcohol and caffeine in one’s diet.
Estrogen has many functions, in both men and women. It is responsible for bone building and mineral absorption, as well as women’s menstrual cycles. Estrogen is also important for the health of the skin, brain, and cardiovascular system. “Most women, about 80 percent, are estrogen-dominant,” says Dr. Gottfried. This means they have an overabundance of estrogen in their bodies. Estrogen dominance is often a result of exposure to external influences— alcohol, excessive red meat consumption, or environmental compounds such as phthalates and bisphenyl A. (These compounds tend to mimic estrogen in the body and bind to sites that estrogen normally would.) Signs of estrogen dominance include cellulite, excess weight carried in the hip and thigh region, an increase in breast size, irritability, and ovarian cysts. Estrogen dominance can be best controlled by limiting red meat and alcohol.
Leptin is the hormone responsible for appetite suppression. Unfortunately, as we age, leptin loses its effectiveness, meaning we become numb to the triggers of satiety, and may feel hungry all the time. Leptin resistance occurs when the brain no longer responds to leptin’s appetite-suppressing messages. If a person is leptin-resistant, she is most likely insulin-resistant as well. “Most people who are leptin resistant are not absorbing fructose properly,” comments Dr. Gottfried, who often recommends that patients omit fruit from their diets for a short period of time to see if this improves their satiety triggers. Also, a diet rich omega-3 fatty acids will stimulate leptin production.
Testosterone is responsible for libido and the building of muscle mass, bone density, and strength. Additionally, it’s the hormone responsible for sexual development in men. Imbalanced testosterone results in increased abdominal
fat, hair loss, fatigue, and achy joints. While testosterone levels tend to decline with age, the problems seen with weight are often a result of environmental chemicals disrupting hormones that contribute to weight and metabolism. These toxins—pesticides, genetically modified foods, synthetic hormones in meat, and the like—block the action of testosterone by mimicking it. Avoid these chemicals by using organic skin care and personal products.
Growth hormone is very important for weight management and metabolism, encouraging the breakdown of stored fat into energy and stimulating muscle production. It also determines the amount of belly fat present in the body. Signs of growth-hormone imbalance include frequent sinus problems and skin reactions, as well as excess fat in the belly area. Most people who have a growth hormone imbalance crave dairy products like milk and cheese. “Most conventional dairy products are full of hormones; as many as six hormones are fed to livestock to make them larger in order to produce more meat and milk,” says Dr. Gottfried. Avoiding dairy is an easy first step to repairing growth hormone imbalance as it relates to weight.
WHERE DO I BEGIN?
There are many factors that contribute to the kind of unwanted weight that’s hard to lose. Our experts agree that a majority of the hormone imbalances preventing weight loss can be addressed with some basic lifestyle and diet modifications. Dr. Gottfried and Dr. Turner are staunch advocates for eliminating sugar and artificial sweeteners from the diet, increasing fiber intake, and the religious use of probiotic supplementation. Additionally, Dr. Turner feels that getting 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep and sleeping properly are keys to weight loss. “You should try to get quality sleep by sleeping naked in a cool, pitch-dark environment. Restorative sleep replenishes growth hormone and melatonin.”
Dr. Gottfried recommends committing to consuming a pound of vegetables per day. “Ninety-seven percent of the U.S. population does not get enough fiber in their diet,” she says. High-fiber diets help with estrogen dominance, which will help the unwanted pounds dissipate. As with any major changes to diet and lifestyle, it’s recommended that you consult your physician to make sure these changes are right for you. If diet, medication, and lifestyle changes don’t solve the hormone imbalance, bio-identical hormone replacement therapy—under the supervision of a qualified medical professional—would be a potential next step toward hormonal balance. Hormone imbalance fixes are simple to try, and can be incorporated into your routine today. What do you have to lose, except unwanted pounds?