Striking A Balance:
How Hormones Influence Your Weight
Today we’re going to dig a little deeper into the relationship between hormones and weight loss. More specifically, I’m going to answer the following questions:
How can hormones cause weight gain or weight loss?
Which hormones are most important for weight loss?
How can I figure out if my hormones are imbalanced?
Can we do anything to re-balance hormones?
These are questions that I get asked all the time, so we’ll tackle these below:
1) How can hormones cause weight gain or weight loss?
One of the main ways your brain and body communicate is with hormones. Hormones are “messengers” that tell our cells what to do. When hormones reach their target cell and bind to a receptor, they tell that cell which functions to perform. Hormones tell cells to generate more or less energy, to speed up or slow down your metabolism, to store more or less fat, to raise or lower your blood sugar levels, etc. If hormone communication is working properly, it’s much easier to lose weight. If hormone communication is imbalanced, however, losing weight can be an uphill battle.
2) Which hormones are the most important for weight loss?
There are many hormones that are important for weight loss, but I will list the top hormones below:
Thyroid: Your thyroid hormones control the thermostat for your energy levels, metabolism, mood, body temperature, and more. When thyroid hormones are low it’s very easy to gain weight – people with hypothyroidism will often gain weight even if they are following a healthy diet and exercising regularly. It’s important to mention that “normal” thyroid blood test results are not the same as “optimal” results. If you’ve been experiencing difficulties losing weight, your thyroid hormones may be involved, even if you’ve been told they’re “normal” by your doctor. Many patients whose lab results are “sub-optimal” can still have “low thyroid” symptoms, especially weight gain and fatigue!
Estrogen & Progesterone: While these two hormones are involved in menstrual cycles, fertility, and reproduction, they also play a significant role in metabolism, water retention, energy levels, mood, and much more. I have countless patients mention their metabolism has never been the same since one of their pregnancies or since menopause, which clearly illustrates the impact estrogen and progesterone have on weight. Low estrogen levels slow your metabolic rate, so you burn less calories than normal and you store excess calories more readily as fat. Lowered estrogen levels accelerate visceral adiposity (the fat that is stored between and around the abdominal organs).
Insulin: Insulin helps with blood sugar regulation – after you eat, insulin is released to tell the cells to let in sugar and use it for energy. When people develop “insulin resistance”, it means the cells are not receptive to this insulin signal. The body then responds by simply making even more insulin, which makes it very easy for body to store fat. Insulin resistance is the main cause of weight gain, obesity, and diabetes, so it’s no wonder that this is our main target for all patients on our weight loss program!
Cortisol: Cortisol is produced in our adrenal glands, and is one of the main “stress hormones”. Stress hormones are actually very helpful if we need to escape immediate danger. However, since most of us deal with chronic and long-lasting stress, this constant release of stress hormones starts to work against us. High cortisol levels can depress immunity, raise blood sugar levels, increase blood pressure, and cause weight gain. With chronically high cortisol levels, patients will often notice a loss of muscle mass in their arms and legs, while simultaneously noticing more weight and fat accumulation around the abdomen.
3) How can I figure out if my hormones are imbalanced?
When discussing weight loss with patients, if I notice clues that hormone imbalances are contributing to weight gain, we will follow this up with hormone lab testing. Lab testing can pinpoint which hormones are out of balance, allowing us to create a targeted treatment plan.
The type of testing we use varies depending on the type of hormone we are trying to test. For thyroid hormones and insulin, for example, we send patients for blood testing. For other hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, and DHEA patients will do salivary or urinary hormone testing, as they yield more accurate results. Salivary or urinary hormone testing is much easier because test kits can be shipped right to your door, test samples are collected at home, and they are then mailed to the lab. If you’re interested in hormone testing, please don’t hesitate to contact our naturopathic clinic!
4) Can we do anything to re-balance hormones?
Absolutely! Once we have determined that a patient has a hormone imbalance, we will restore the hormone to optimal levels. We would first consider what the possible causes were that lead to the hormone imbalance – was it a result of significant stress? nutrient deficiencies? autoimmunity? etc. When we can identify the underlying causes then we can make a targeted natural treatment plan for that patient.
We often use clinical nutrition, nutrient supplementation, and herbal medicines (teas, tinctures, extracts, supplements, etc.) since they lend themselves very well to restoring hormone function in a lot of cases. When necessary, we can also prescribe hormone therapy to restore hormone levels quicker and more effectively. This can include the use of Natural Desiccated Thyroid medications or Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy. When used correctly, Bio-Identical Hormone treatments are very safe and can effectively improve symptoms such as weight gain, low energy levels, hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety, depression, and more.
If you have gained weight or are finding it very difficult to lose weight despite exercising and following a healthy diet, we can help you find out if hormone imbalances are at the root of this issue. Call our naturopathic clinic to schedule a weight loss and hormone assessment!
Yours in health,
Dr. Michael Morsillo, H.B.Sc., N.D.
Newmarket Naturopathic Doctor
16655 Yonge St., Newmarket, ON
905-898-1844 ext. 135