Hormone Imbalance and Its Influence on Weight Loss
Did you know that balanced hormones are critical for a healthy metabolism? Most of us are familiar with the connection between thyroid hormones and weight, but there are many other hormones that have an impact if they are too high or low. While you may be able to lose weight with a hormone imbalance, it’s way more difficult and more likely to be temporary. The stress of forced weight loss will usually slow down your metabolism and as soon as you stop your strict weight loss program, the weight returns, sometimes more than you lost to begin with! This is the story of the yo-yo dieter and the mainstay for the weight loss industry.
On the other hand, when you approach weight loss from a place of balanced hormones, your body may be able to lose weight without that level of metabolic stress. It’s not necessarily the case that the weight will just fall off instantly, as you still need to put in the effort with a healthy diet and exercise plan, but you will get better results because some of the contributing blocks to weight loss will have been removed. It’s important to remember that everyone’s weigh set point and body shape are different, and there is no perfect measurement of body weight, shape, or size.
There are five major hormones at play here:
This is the one that most people think of when it comes to weight. Low levels of thyroid hormone, known as Hypothyroidism, are not uncommon and will slow the metabolism way down, reducing the calories burned during everyday tasks and during exercise. Hypothyroidism can also cause fatigue, muscle weakness, and low motivation, which makes it harder to exercise and to make healthy choices. Unfortunately, the thyroid gland can get slowed down by many other things in the body like autoimmune problems, nutrient deficiencies, environmental toxicity, and other hormone imbalances.
High insulin levels are one of the most common problems for the metabolism. Insulin is a hormone that helps take sugar out of the blood and deliver it to cells for energy. The more sugars and other carbohydrates in a meal, the higher insulin will climb. If you consume more carbohydrates (especially simple carbohydrates like sugar and processed flour-based products) than your body can handle, insulin levels can spike and stay elevated even between meals. This can lead to something called insulin resistance, and it is a major obstacle to weight loss. When insulin levels are high it promotes the storage of fat in the liver and muscle tissue, preventing that fat from being burned for energy. Some people have a genetic tendency towards insulin resistance (that can progress to diabetes), but even without this tendency, insulin resistance is common in women after menopause and is frequently related to weight gain around that time.
The rate of obesity in women increases starting around age 40 and continues as they approach and pass menopause (typically around age 50). One of the defining features of menopause is a decreased estrogen level. Low estrogen levels cause metabolic dysfunction, which slows the metabolism, causes fat gain around the abdomen, and increases cardiovascular risk. Estrogen also affects receptors in the hypothalamus that control appetite and satiety, promoting lower food intake and increased satisfaction from meals. Interestingly, high estrogen levels are also associated with weight gain. This can be seen in younger women who can sometimes be “estrogen-dominant.” The weight gain occurs partly because high estrogen levels interfere with thyroid hormones. So, it is really all about having the right balance.
Low testosterone in women is an obstacle to weight loss, due to the loss of lean muscle mass. It is common for testosterone levels to drop in women as a result of long-term stress and aging. Without enough testosterone there is not enough hormonal support for muscle building. Lean muscle mass is critical since it burns calories even while we are at rest, pulling sugar out of the blood so insulin levels don’t have to be so high in order to achieve this goal.
And finally, stress hormones being too high or too low can slow weight loss. When they are too low, it causes fatigue, can increase carbohydrate cravings, and can impair thyroid hormone production. Also, low DHEA (one of the “stress” hormones) can deplete testosterone in women. And low testosterone makes it hard to maintain muscle mass. High stress hormones can increase blood sugar and insulin and slow down the metabolism. Our bodies have evolved to slow weight loss during stressful times, which is helpful in a famine, but not necessarily in today’s world of chronic stressors.
Checking to make sure you are in hormone balance before starting a weight loss program, or if you are struggling to see results, can save you a lot of time and frustration. Comprehensive hormone testing is critical since it allows us to see how the hormones may be impacting each other, and we often recommend looking at other factors that alter hormone function, such as nutrient levels and digestive health. Having a healthy hormonal state and balanced metabolism will allow you to identify and modify the factors that affect weight.
Regardless of your age or gender, balancing hormones can lead a healthy metabolism and will support any weight loss and wellness program. If you are interested in learning more about hormone balancing, or would like to book an appointment, contact us.
Article written by Dr. Jennifer Zeglen, ND
Spark Health naturopathic wellness center is located in Solana Beach, San Diego County, CA, and was founded in 2013.