In this post find our about hormonal weight gain and if hormones really can make you fat
Hormones are often spoken about in relation to mood swings, skin problems and menstrual issues such as migraines, PMT and cramps. But did you know that hormones could be the cause of your weight gain too?
I’m not talking just about the menopause, although we’ll discuss that more later. I’m talking about how hormones can cause hormonal weight gain in normal, young and healthy women.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are the chemical messengers that are secreted from your endocrine glands and help to regulate help to your body. They are important for regulating processes in your body like metabolism, growth, sexual function and mood. Hormones wake you up in the morning and send you to sleep in the evening. They help you avoid danger and digest your food and without hormones, you wouldn’t experience love.
When we talk about hormones, most people think of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. But these are just the hormones associated with the reproduction system. There are actually 50 different hormones that circulate throughout our bodies.
Other hormones include:
- Growth Hormone
Insulin, adrenalin, cortisol, thyroxine are all hormones that have essential and helpful functions, but in excess or if they’re too low, they can actually cause hormonal weight gain too.
How Your Sex Hormones Influence Your Weight
Your sex hormones are estrogen, progesterone and testosterone and they play a vital role in our female lives from puberty to pregnancy to menopause. But how are they related to hormonal weight gain? Well, your sex hormones play an important part in body fat distribution and your body’s ability to lose or gain weight too. When your hormone levels are out of whack it makes losing weight particularly difficult.
For instance, high or low levels of estrogen can increase insulin resistance. This leads to high glucose levels and weight gain. Plus being insulin resistant turns off your ability to lose weight.
By evolutionary design, most women are predisposed to carrying body fat on their hips and thighs. However, during perimenopause, menopause and post-menopause, estrogen production significantly decreases. This reduction in estrogen encourages more fat to get stored more on the stomach area as adipose fat and the more dangerous, visceral fat around your organs.
Visceral fat is a type of fat that accumulates in the abdominal area, around the organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines. It’s considered a much higher risk for obesity-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and several cancers. Keeping your body weight under control is the best way to prevent the build-up of visceral fat and reduce your risk of obesity-related disease.
What about the other sex hormones?
While estrogen is the real culprit when it comes to hormonal weight gain, progesterone has a more subtle, but significant impact too. Low levels of this hormone do not actually cause you to gain weight, but can instead cause water retention or bloating.
Testosterone, which is normally thought of as a male hormone, is also important for women too. Testosterone is crucial for maintaining muscle mass, which in turn supports your metabolic rate and the number of calories you burn each day.
Unfortunately, testosterone also declines with age. This can lead to fatigue, loss of muscle mass, muscle weakness, loss of sexual desire, low mood and weight gain.
How Your Thyroid Gland Causes Weight Gain
It is thought that around 1 in 20 people suffers from a thyroid disorder in the UK. In reality, this number is probably much higher due to the insufficient testing carried about by doctors in the UK.
This is a subject that is exceedingly close to my heart, having struggled with hypothyroidism and thyroid resistance since I was 20yrs.
When your thyroid goes haywire it can have a dramatic effect on your life. This can cause an endless list of symptoms which affect your mind and body. I won’t go too much in how your thyroid affects you as I will do a separate blog post on this.
Your thyroid is your master gland and is responsible for controlling your metabolism. The two main hormones of the thyroid gland, thyroxine and triiodothyronine (T4 and T3) regulate your weight, energy levels, internal temperature and heart rate.
An underactive thyroid means it isn’t producing that right amount of thyroid hormones that your body needs to function correctly. If your thyroid gland is underactive, it can lead to weight gain and body changes that are really difficult to get a handle of.
What makes having a thyroid disorder even worse, is that 99% of doctors simply do not understand how to treat hypothyroid patients correctly. Insufficient testing and diagnosis plus underdosing of thyroid hormones leave many of these patients struggling to cope with life on a daily basis.
How The Menopause Can Cause Hormonal Weight Gain
Ah, the menopause – the gift that keeps on giving! While you might look forward to the days when you can wave goodbye to monthly cycles, cramps and PMT, the menopause usually comes with far more problems than it solves.
Hot flashes, incontinence and vaginal dryness are all common complaints of menopausal and perimenopausal women – along with increased weight gain.
So why does the menopause have such a significant impact on your body weight?
Well, it’s kind of a triple whammy effect.
As you enter perimenopause your levels of progesterone decline. This can lead to water retention and bloating, but the bigger problem is it causes estrogen dominance.
Yes, your levels of estrogen also decline but if progesterone declines more quickly than estrogen it will lead to an imbalance. As we’ve discussed, estrogen can cause your body to redistribute your body fat to your stomach, instead of your thighs and hips.
Then, there’s the low, energy and loss of motivation. This could be down to low levels of testosterone and changes to your thyroid. Staying slim requires the motivation to eat well and the energy to work out regularly. During menopause, many women suffer from insomnia, poor energy and a loss of motivation. Making it much more likely that their diet and exercise regime will go out the window and their weight will start to creep up.
And finally, your hormones also influence your lean body mass. As you age, your muscle mass decreases slightly. In fact from the age of 30 yrs, unless you work out, you could lose up to 10% muscle mass every decade!
Why is this important? Because our muscles help to burn calories, both while we work out and while we’re resting, losing muscle mass means your body will burn less fat.
But There’s More –
Insulin & Cortisol’s Impact On Hormonal Weight Gain
It’s not just your sex hormones that play a part in body fat production, other hormones can influence your weight too.
Cortisol is known as your “stress” hormone, due to its role in your fight or flight response. But it plays a significant part in your weight regulation too. Maintaining just the right amount of cortisol is important for helping to control your blood sugar levels, reducing cravings and keeping your energy stable throughout the day. It helps regulate your metabolism and has a controlling effect on salt and water balance too.
If you are living in a constant state of stress, your cortisol levels will remain high. High levels of cortisol increase insulin resistance, leading to weight gain.
And finally, insulin. Most people are aware of insulin’s role in blood sugar regulation due to the education and awareness surrounding diabetes. But not only does it regulate your blood sugar, but it is actually the hormone responsible for carrying excess glucose to the liver to be converted into fat and stored. When you become insulin resistant your body goes into storage mode and weight gain is inevitable.
So What Can You Do To Reduce Hormonal Weight Gain?
As with all weight-related problems, if you want to combat hormonal weight gain, one place you can look is your diet and lifestyle.
Eating a low carb or ketogenic diet has been shown to not only result in significant weight loss, but it can also help you balance your hormones and increase insulin sensitivity. You can read more about the Keto Diet in my previous blog post here…
Being active and taking regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do to help regulate your hormones. Not only does it burn calories and increase your serotonin and dopamine (happy hormone) levels, it can also help build muscle mass which can boosts your metabolism too.
There are supplements and herbal alternatives to help balance hormones such as the root Maca, which is well known for helping to balance female hormones.
It’s also important that you get adequate amounts of Vitamin D, all the Vitamin B’s, Zinc and Fish Oil.
You might want to have a look into Bio-Identical Hormone Therapy, to help balance out your hormones and give a boost to low levels of progesterone, estrogen or testosterone.
And finally, if you notice any significant changes to your hormones or if your hormonal fluctuations are having a significant effect on the quality of your life be sure to see your GP for a check-up.
Need A Little Help Controlling Your Weight?
If you’re struggling with your body weight you don’t have to do it alone. Here at The Body Clinic, we’ve got a range of services and support available for you – from the One to One Diet to help you get your eating under control to non-surgical fat removal treatments that can eliminate stubborn pockets of body fat.