By Betsy Stander Mirabile, M.D., A.P.R.N.
Forever Health Network Practitioner
Are you struggling to lose weight even when you’re doing everything “right”? Or are you suddenly gaining weight although your diet and exercise have remained the same? If the answer is “yes,” your hormones could be to blame!
Hormones are important to all body functions and play a significant role in your ability to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. There are many hormonal imbalances that can occur in the body including, but not limited to, elevated insulin, elevated cortisol, elevated or decreased estrogen, low testosterone, low DHEA, and hypothyroidism.
It is important to recognize possible imbalances that may be occurring in the body and correct them in order to reach your weight loss goals.
Elevated Insulin – the fat storage hormone
Insulin has an important job. It processes sugar in the bloodstream and carries it to your cells — it’s then used for energy or stored for later use in the form of fat. Elevated levels of insulin can be caused by excess consumption of carbohydrates.
A diet high in carbohydrates, such as processed foods and sugary beverages, in combination with a low protein and low fiber intake, can lead to fat storage, weight gain, and high insulin levels.
Poor diet along with lack of exercise, alcohol consumption, stress, and high blood pressure can lead to chronically high levels of insulin and the development of Type 2 diabetes.
Chronic Cortisol – the stress hormone
High levels of cortisol can be harmful to your health. Studies indicate that a high stress level can contribute to the accumulation of belly fat. Cortisol levels are higher in people who suffer from conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and excessive fatigue.
Not only does elevated cortisol lead to belly fat, it also increases appetite and cravings. This is why people turn to “comfort foods” when feeling significant amounts of stress!
Other harmful effects of high cortisol include decreased bone density, memory loss, and depression.
What is the best way to combat high cortisol? Get some sleep! At least 7 hours a night. It is also important to eat a high protein breakfast and find an outlet for all that stress. Activities such as yoga, meditation or even taking a long walk can help decrease stress.
Estrogen Dominance – the reproductive hormone
Both men and women naturally produce estrogen. In men, an excess of belly fat can cause testosterone to be converted to estrogen.
As a man’s estrogen level rises so does the fat accumulation. In addition, high levels of estrogen in men can contribute to prostate cancer and heart disease.
In women, both excess estrogen and low estrogen can contribute to weight gain and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. Estrogen levels fluctuate as a woman goes through phases of her reproductive life.
What can be done if you suspect an estrogen imbalance? Get your hormones tested. Testing can identify if an estrogen imbalance exists and what methods of treatment would be best. Also it is important to eat a healthy diet including green tea, flax seed, and chia seeds. All of these products can assist the body in processing extra estrogen.
Low Testosterone – the sex hormone
Increased stress (high cortisol levels), abdominal fat, and aging all contribute to low testosterone levels. Low levels of testosterone can lead to conditions such as depression, obesity, heart disease, loss of muscle tone, decreased stamina, and decreased libido.
Simple hormone testing can identify a low level of testosterone. When levels are corrected, it has been shown to decrease body fat and improve stamina, muscle mass, and libido. A healthy diet high in lean protein, plus weight-bearing exercise can help naturally increase testosterone levels.
Missing DHEA – the mother of all hormones
There is much talk these days about DHEA, but what exactly is it? DHEA is a precursor hormone secreted by the adrenal glands that can be converted into testosterone or estrogen in the body. DHEA levels typically hit their peak in our 20’s and then naturally decline as we age.
DHEA is responsible for many important functions including the body’s ability to burn fat and keep it off. Low DHEA levels can be detected in hormone testing. Correcting an imbalance can improve libido, energy, and weight loss.
Low Metabolic Throttle – the thyroid gland
The thyroid gland is responsible for producing hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate, heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development, and bone maintenance. The thyroid gland can become overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism).
Thyroid conditions can be quite dangerous and cause many unpleasant symptoms. For patients suffering from hypothyroidism, weight gain is a common side effect. Thyroid conditions can be safely treated with medication.
Get your levels checked
Hormones play a significant role in your health, including weight loss and weight management. A simple blood test is the first step in understanding your hormonal health.