by Deborah Lynn Blumberg May 03, 2021 4 min read

Hormones and weight management are closely linked. Hormones are chemical messengers involved in every metabolic process in our body, which means they have a powerful role in how we function, feel and look. Working together, they can increase or decrease appetite as well as affect how the body stores fat.

There are five key hormones involved in metabolism that can make losing weight a challenge, these include insulin, the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, also estrogen and progesterone. When any of these hormones are out of balance, it can be harder to maintain a healthy body weight and you may also find that increasing exercise and reducing calories aren't as effective for weight loss as you may expect.

Fortunately, you can bring balance back to your hormones — making it easier to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight it in a more sustainable way.

Insulin

Insulin is produced in the pancreas and secreted in small amounts during the day, and in larger amounts after you eat. Its main role is to allow cells to absorb glucose (sugar) and convert it into energy where needed, in doing so it plays an important role in blood sugar regulation. Insulin is also known as the fat storage hormone,where in the presence of elevated glucose levels it prevents any stored fat reserves from being broken down so essentially it tells fat cells to store fat.

Eating processed carbohydrates, refined sugar and fast food in large quantities has shown to cause increased spikes in insulin levels and interfere with optimal hormone signaling. Consistently elevated levels of insulin, can lead to a variety of health problems, including a higher risk of weight gain as the body will store excess glucose (energy) as body fat.

Over time, some people — especially those who are inactive or already overweight — can develop insulin resistance. This happens when the cells stop responding to the amount of insulin the body produces, which encourages the body to make even more insulin — this can lead to increased hunger and weight gain.

Regulating blood sugar is a key part of to maintaining healthy levels of insulin, this can be achieved by:

  • Minimizing or avoiding refined or added sugar
  • Eating lean protein and healthy fats
  • Reducing processed carbohydrates
  • Regular exercise
  • Getting enough sleep -- this helps to normalize glucose levels and burn more body fat

hands tape measuring the abdomen

Leptin and Ghrelin: The Hunger Hormones

There is a reason why they are referred to as the hunger hormones.Leptin is the hormone produced by fat cells that makes you feel full and decreases appetite. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is released when the stomach is empty — it increases appetite and sends a signal to the brain to eat.

People who are overweight tend to have high blood levels of leptin. One study found that obese subjects' leptin levels were four times higher than those of average weight. People with high leptin, which reduces appetite, should feel satiated — but in the case of obesity, leptin signaling doesn't work as it should.

When leptin signaling is impaired, the signal that you're full doesn't make it to your brain, so you may continue to keep eating. Leptin resistance has been linked to high insulin levels. Research has also shown that for some people, ghrelin only decreases slightly after eating a meal, which can lead to overeating.

Ways to help balance leptin and ghrelin include:

  • Avoiding inflammatory and fatty foods
  • Reducing sugar consumption, which can impair the ghrelin response
  • Eating anti-inflammatory wholefoods like oily fish or other healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and protein
  • Prioritize sleep -- research has shown that a lack of sleep can lead to a drop in leptin, a rise in ghrelin and increased cravings

Estrogen and Progesterone

The body creates estrogen, the most important female sex hormone, in the ovaries to help regulate the reproductive system. Very high or very low levels can both contribute to weight gain depending on overall hormone balance and other health factors.

Balancing estrogen, along with progesterone — which is also produced in the ovaries — is critical to maintaining a healthy weight. Estrogen helps regulate food intake and decides how to allocate fat tissue. During menopause, for example, fat storage shifts to the abdomen. Estrogen also helps regulate insulin secretion. Balancing estrogen with progesterone can help balance insulin levels.

Diet and lifestyle factors can help maintain healthy levels estrogen and progesterone, these include:

  • Managing stress
  • A wholefood diet that prioritizes produce -- 7-9+ servings daily will provide the fiber you need that helps the body to remove excess Estrogen
  • Anti-inflammatory protein and healthy fats
  • Regular physical activity
  • 7-9 hours of sleep

Optimal hormone balance and weight management requires an integrative health approach that includes various diet and lifestyle factors with protocols that can provide added support. When you take steps to eat healthier, manage stress, exercise and boost your overall metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns calories), you can help to balance your hormones and achieve long term health and well-being.



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