Hormones. What kind of image comes to your mind when you read that word? For many you may picture a teenager with acne and an attitude. For others you may picture a pregnant lady crying, then laughing while dipping a dill pickle in a pint of ice cream. Others may picture a fifty something woman fanning her face while asking why it's so hot in here. The truth is, hormones run the show for ALL of us and when they're not balanced a whole host of symptoms and conditions can develop. For the sake of this blog series, we are talking about the underlying root cause of weight gain (or inability to lose weight) so here we focus on 4 of the top hormones to pay attention to if you struggle with weight.
1. Cortisol. You may have heard this be called the "belly fat" hormone or the "fight or flight" hormone. Neither of which are completely accurate. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands. Most cells in the body have receptors for cortisol which means it impacts a LOT of functions. When our body is under stress, one of the main
hormones involved is cortisol (another is adrenaline). Way back in the day when we were faced with such things as bears and tigers, we needed the response to either get us out of there, or fight! Now days the sources of the stress may be different but the response is the same. When our brain registers that something stressful is happening, it triggers the release of cortisol which then is in charge of bringing energy where it needs to be and suppressing non-essential tasks. Non-essential tasks (from the perspective of cortisol and the body) would be things like digestion, immune system functions, and reproduction. The logic being, when you are fighting a bear, you don’t need your digestive system or reproductive system working, so that energy goes towards necessities like brain function and working muscles. Since Cortisol helps regulate energy to the cells, it has a pretty big impact on cell metabolism. If cells aren't able to get the glucose (energy) into the actual cell (talking about insulin resistance and glucose dis-regulation) than your body can actually send cravings for what it sees as instant energy- think carbs and sugars. People who fall into this cycle tend to find it hard to resist those foods (because their body is screaming for it) so weight gain can result.
2. Glucose: The body’s number one fuel source is glucose and it's used in every cell of the body. Under stress, cortisol’s (see #1) job is to provide energy
to the essential functions like brain activity and your muscles so it will release the
glucose into the blood stream so it can be used in the needed areas. Sounds like a
good thing, right? Well, yes, if you’re fighting a bear and need to think sharply and
run fast. But guess what? Our body doesn’t know that we aren’t currently fighting
a bear and instead we are just stressed from sitting in traffic or from being around
screaming, tantrum throwing kids all day. Our brain still gets the signals that we
are under stress so it sends the cortisol to do it’s thing. This can result in reduced
digestive function, reduced immune function, disrupted reproductive functions,
and a cascade of other imbalances. AND, because glucose is the number one fuel
source, we have excess glucose in our blood which, chronically, can start to throw off other hormones, and cause damage to our vessels leading to a host of unwanted conditions.
The body's natural regulator of glucose is insulin. The cells require insulin to actually get the glucose to enter in there (it's like the key to the cell door). When our glucose (blood sugar) levels are chronically high, the cells can actually become resistant to insulin and not respond as well to it resulting in not enough glucose actually getting into the cell and building up in the blood stream. When the cells are starved for energy (glucose) due to them not allowing the insulin "key" to let the glucose in, they will send signals to the brain that we need energy, to which the brain will send signals for the most immediate form of energy- sugar and carbs. As you can imagine, this can lead to sugar cravings, carb cravings, and eventually weight gain.
3. Thyroid Hormones (not just one hormone)- The thyroid gland helps the body maintain it's temperature, use energy and allow for the brain, heart, and many other organs to function properly. Many people don't realize that there are many important thyroid hormones (not just the TSH and T4). If any one of the 6 thyroid hormones are imbalanced, a host of issues can occur. TSH and T4 are the ones most commonly checked. TSH is Thyroid Stimulating Hormone and shows that the signals from your brain to the thyroid gland are working properly. T4 is converted to the active form of thyroid hormone T3 (most of which happens in the gut). All forms of thyroid hormone including Total and Free T3 and T4 as well as Reverse T3 can all show if the right amount of thyroid hormone is being produce, converted, and used properly in the cells that need it. When these are not balanced, metabolism can be impacted and food cravings/sugar cravings can run high leading to weight gain.
4. Estrogen/Progesterone: Most people are familiar with these two hormones (especially if you happen to be a woman). Estrogen is one of the main female sex hormones and progesterone helps to balance it out (just to name one of it's functions). There are occasions and conditions that cause estrogen to be too high, called estrogen dominance. When this occurs symptoms such as weight gain, depression (which can lead to weight gain), fatigue (which can lead to weight gain), and PMS symptoms can increase. Estrogen dominance can also be an issue in men and cause symptoms such as breast tissue enlargement, infertility, and lowered sex drive.
I often get asked, why is estrogen dominance on the rise? One simple answer...our toxic environment! Hormones are added to a host of different animal products- think beef, chicken, pork, turkey, etc. Also, think about any byproduct of the animal such as milks, cheeses, eggs, and others. If the animal is given a hormone injection for growth and to boost milk supply, we actually are getting it when we eat that product. Finding meats and dairy products "not treated with hormones" or grass-fed helps to cut down on added hormones in your body.
Our produce isn't safe either. The pesticides and other products used on our foods are known endocrine disruptors and can cause imbalances in our hormones.
Another scary thought is how toxic our water supply has become! Run off from farms using chemicals and fertilizers, as well as byproducts from livestock treated with hormones makes it's way into our water supply.
Now, all of this is not meant to scare you but it is meant to bring awareness to the fact that if you are struggling to lose weight, there is SO MUCH MORE to it than simply calling yourself "lazy" or "unmotivated" or that you lack the "willpower". If you feel like some of this is true for you but you're not sure where to start, reach out to me! I'm happy to talk through some of it and discuss your options to find better balance. Schedule a free 20 minute consultation with me or send me an email with your questions.