I hear it over and over: "hormones don’t affect weight." This mindset is usually from those who simply believe your weight issues are only about what you are taking in, and sweating out. Below I have laid out 10 different hormones that can effect your weight. While each of these hormones could have a blog all their own, I have created a starting point for you by summarizing them below:
Role: Glucose Regulation - Insulin is responsible for how the body uses and stores sugar. It is the cell communicator, signalling the cell to use the sugar for energy, or store it as fat for future energy use.
How Does it Affect Weight: Insulin’s role is in lowering blood sugar levels therefore when it is elevated it stores excess glucose in fat cells.
What Can You Do: Avoid consuming carbohydrate/sugary foods/coffee/alcohol on an empty stomach. Ensuring protein or fat are the first thing hitting an empty stomach will help avoid a large spike in glucose and insulin levels.
Sugary Foods = Blood Sugar Spike = Insulin Spike = Storage in Fat Cells
Role: Leptin is produced by fat cells and targets the brain to let the body know when it has enough fat. Leptin essentially allows you to feel full when eating.
How Does it Affect Weight: Without adequate leptin levels you won’t feel full and therefore will continually over consume unnecessary calories leading to weight gain.
What Can You Do: Increase healthy fats in your diet which help increase leptin levels. Increase leptin levels by reducing inflammation, increasing fibre, avoiding processed foods, and improving your overall quality of sleep
Low Leptin = Never Full
Role: Ghrelin is produced in the stomach to stimulate your appetite and release growth hormone.
How Does it Affect Weight: If your ghrelin levels are continually high you will constantly feel hungry, leading you to over consume unnecessary calories leading to weight gain.
What Can You Do: Avoid yo-yo dieting which increases ghrelin levels. As well be sure to consume adequate protein and fat to help lower ghrelin levels. Avoid high sugar food/drinks which can impair your body’s response to ghrelin.
Excess Ghrelin = Always Hungry
Role: Cortisol is produced by your adrenal glands to help your body survive stress.
How Does it Affect Weight: When cortisol is chronically elevated you gain weight as your body attempts to store resources (usually in the abdomen) necessary for fighting stress. Elevated cortisol also leads to overeating.
What Can You Do: Stress management is key for managing cortisol levels! Consider counselling, exercise, or meditation. Avoid extreme dieting and improve sleep quality to help with managing cortisol levels.
Stress really can make you fat!
Role: Thyroid hormone regulates your cellular metabolism
How Does it Affect Weight: Without enough thyroid hormone our metabolism slows and therefore weight gain occurs, the opposite happens with too much thyroid hormone and inappropriate weight loss.
What Can You Do: It is imperative to have your levels checked (TSH, FT3, FT4, Thyroid Antibodies)! It is also important that you ensure you are getting enough micro-nutrients needed for thyroid health: magnesium, zinc, selenium vitamin C, B vitamins. Because one of the main places thyroid hormone is activated is the muscle, strength training is imperative for healthy thyroid hormone levels. Ensure healthy dietary fats are consumed as fats are backbone of hormones. Limit your soy and gluten intake as there is evidence showing it can impeded thyroid function.
Thyroid Hormone = Calorie Burner
Role: Estrogen can be thought of as type of growth hormone. It encourages cell growth, including fat cell growth. Estrogen also regulates female fertility.
How Does it Affect Weight: Estrogen has been shown to boost your metabolic rate therefore when estrogen levels are too low you can experience weight gain. Elevated estrogen levels can also affect weight. Excess estrogen can offset your thyroid hormone, also leading to weight gain.
What Can You Do: Have your estrogen levels tested to determine where your levels are at. Support your liver which is responsible for aiding in hormone clearance. Other ways to help support healthy estrogen levels includes consuming cruciferous vegetables, strength training, and consuming adequate fiber. Progesterone levels need to be optimized as well since they opposed estrogen (see below). Ensure you are getting enough micro-nutrients for optimal hormone production: magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, B vitamins. Ensure healthy dietary fats are consumed as fats are backbone of hormones.
Both Low and High Estrogen can Affect Weight
Role: Progesterone increases your core body temperature, it is also a neuroprotective agent, and regulates female fertility.
How Does it Affect Weight: Progesterone supports your thyroid therefore when progesterone levels aren’t adequate your thyroid is also not working well enough leading to weight gain. As well, without progesterone you can end up in an estrogen dominate state and in turn also offset your thyroid gland leading to weight gain.
What Can You Do: Have your progesterone levels tested, ensure estrogen levels are optimized as well. Ensure you are getting enough micro-nutrients for optimal hormone production: magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, B vitamins. Ensure healthy dietary fats are consumed as fats are backbone of hormones.
Both Low and High Progesterone can Affect Weight
Role: Testosterone is responsible for fat distribution, muscle mass, bone strength and brain function. It also regulates male fertility.
How Does it Affect Weight: Without adequate testosterone you are unable to build muscle. Muscle is important as it burns more energy than fat. Therefore not enough muscle means less caloric output and in turn weight gain.
What Can You Do: Many studies show that exercise, specifically weight training, raises testosterone levels. Stress management, adequate protein/fat/carbs, and sleep management are also important for optimizing testosterone levels. Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels is important for hormone production. Ensure you are getting enough micro-nutrients for optimal hormone production: magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, B vitamins. Ensure healthy dietary fats are consumed as fats are backbone of hormones.
Testosterone = Muscle = Calories Burned
Role: Glucagon is produced in the pancreas and acts on the liver to manage blood sugar levels by ensuring glucose levels don’t drop too low.
How Does it Affect Weight: Think of glucagon as the opposite of insulin; it is essential for fat burning as this is the main way it helps produce energy when glucose levels drop too low. When we don’t have adequate glucagon it is difficult to burn excess stored fat, making weight loss difficult.
What Can You Do: Exercise and consuming a protein rich diet are important for maintaining adequate glucagon. As well reducing carbohydrates is also important. Your body will always preferentially burn a sugar over a fat, therefore if sugar is always present you won’t burn fat!
Your Body’s Energy Preference: Sugar > Fat
10. Vitamin D
Role: Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium to ensure healthy bones. It also plays a role in modulating the immune system.
How Does it Affect Weight: Low levels of vitamin D are associated with higher BMI. As well adequate levels of vitamin D reduce the formation of new fat cells. Vitamin D also increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps control appetite. Finally, adequate levels of vitamin D suppresses fat storage, helping prevent weight gain.
What Can You Do: Have your vitamin D levels tested. If levels are not adequate you can get injections or utilize supplementation. For some people safe levels of sun exposure can also help increase vitamin D levels. There are also some foods that contain vitamin D including cold water fish, cod liver oil, liver, eggs, and mushrooms.
Vitamin D Affects…EVERYTHING
Weight management for many can be as simple as calories in, calories out. However, if you are someone who has struggled with weight management, remember, there could be a hormonal reason why! Curious about learning more? Connect with Dr. Hennigar or a licensed naturopathic physician in your area to learn more. As always, this post is not designed to diagnose or treat you, but instead to give you something to think about. Please book a consult with a naturopathic physician prior to changing, starting, or stopping medications or protocols.
Allison, MB & Myers,, MG (2014). 20 years of leptin: connecting leptin singling to biological function. Journal of Endocrinology, 223 (1): T25: 35. doi: 10.1530/JOE-14-0404.
Banks, WA et al. (2004). Triglycerides induce leptin resistance at the blood brain barrier. Diabetes Journal, 53 (5):1253-60.
Kim, M, Reaven, G., & Kim, S. (2017). Dissecting the relationship between obesity and hyperinsulineamia: role of insulin secretion and insulin clearance. Obesity Biology and Integrated Physiology, 25, 378-383. doi:10.1002/oby.21699. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/oby.21699
Kiok, MD, Jakobsdottir, S., & Drent, ML (2007). The role of leptin and gherkin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obesity Review, 8 (1):21-34.
Santin, A., & Furlanetto, T. (2011). Role of estrogen in thyroid function and growth regulation. Journal of Thyroid Research, doi: [10.4061/2011/875125].
Traish, AM. (2014). Testosterone and weight loss: the evidence. Current Opinion Endocrinology Diabetes, Oct 21, (5):313:22. doi: 10.1097/MED.0000000000000086.
Wood, RJ (2008). Vitamin D and adipogenesis: new molecular insights. Nutrition Review, 66, (1):40-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2007.00004.x.
Papers of Willard M. Allen, MD. From the Edward G. Miner Library: www.urmc.rochester.edu/hslt/miner/historical_services/archives/Faculty/AllenPapers.cfm
NIH Clinical Center: http://cclnprod.cc.nih.gov/dlm/testguide.nsf/Index/CB26894E1EB28DEF85256BA5005B000E?OpenDocument
Schumacher M et al: Local synthesis and dual actions of progesterone in the nervous system: neuroprotection and myelination, Growth Horm IGF Res Jun;14 Suppl A:S18-33, 2004.
Shah C et al: Progesterone receptors on human spermatozoa, Indian J Exp Biol.Jul;41(7):773-80, 2003.
Lee, J and Hopkins V: Dr John Lee’s Hormone Balance Made Simple, New York, 2006, Warner Books.
Tan MO et al: Serum concentrations of sex hormones in men with severe lower urinary tract symptoms and benign prostatic hyperplasia, Int Urol Nephrol 35(3):357-63, 2003.
Formby B and Wiley TS: Progesterone inhibits growth and induces apoptosis in breast cancer cells: inverse effects on Bcl-2 and p53, Ann Clin Lab Sci Nov-Dec;28(6):360-9, 1998.
Nnane IP et al: Effects of some novel inhibitors of C17,20-lyase and 5alpha-reductase in vitro and in vivo and their potential role in the treatment of prostate cancer, Cancer Res Sep 1;58(17):3826-32, 1998.
Cabeza M et al: New progesterone derivatives as inhibitors of 5alpha-reductase enzyme and prostate cancer cell growth, J Enzyme Inhib Med Chem Aug;21(4):371-8, 2006.
Amory JK et al: Acceptability of a combination testosterone gel and depomedroxyprogesterone acetate male contraceptive regimen, Contraception Mar;75(3):218-23, 2007.
Grimes DA et al: Steroid hormones for contraception in men: systematic review of randomized controlled trials, Contraception Feb;71(2):89-94, 2005.