Do you ever find yourself saying this?

 

  • No matter how much I exercise or eat right, I can’t lose this excess weight.
  • As I’ve been getting older, my metabolism has slowed and I keep gaining weight.
  • Once I lose the weight, the fat comes right back to me.

 

If you can relate to the above, you may be suffering from a hormonal imbalance.

 

As a nurse practitioner with experience in weight management and bioidentical hormone therapy, I can tell you firsthand that your weight affects your hormones and, on the flipside, your hormones affect your weight. So, which came first? The chicken or the egg? It’s kind of hard to tell, but there are things you can do to help both at the same time and lead to a leaner body and put your hormones back into balance. Even if you’re going through menopause, you can help relieve hot flashes, weight gain, and other symptoms of menopause by changing your diet.

 

First, it’s helpful to know what hormones are, what role(s) they have in the body, and what the major players are.

 

So, what are hormones? Hormones are chemical messengers that are made in the body and are responsible for almost every bodily function. We can’t survive without them! Without hormones, we would never experience hunger and may possibly starve to death. Without hormones, we wouldn’t be able to make babies and mankind would end. Crazy, isn’t it?

 

 

What’s happening to our hormones? As we age, our hormones change. Men mainly lose testosterone and women lose progesterone and estrogen over the years. This a natural process of aging, however, there are other factors that can speed up this process, mainly lifestyle. Stress, improper nutrition, excess weight…. These all disrupt the delicate balance of hormones needed to maintain good health.

 

When it comes to your weight, there are many hormones that can affect your metabolism, which will either slow down or speed up how quickly your body uses up energy (calories).

 

I am sure you have heard that an underactive thyroid or too much cortisol can slow down your metabolism and lead to weight gain. However, there are many other important hormones that can cause you to pack on the pounds when you’re trying your very hardest to lose them.

The top hormones that can affect your weight when imbalanced are:

 

Estrogen

Estrogen is produced by the ovaries, adrenal gland, and fat cells. It is a hormone responsible for the growth and development of female sexual characteristics, reproduction, and bone formation.

 

PROBLEM: If there is too much estrogen in the body (i.e. estrogen dominance), which can occur even during menopause, it can cause you to gain extra weight especially around the waist, hips, and thighs.

 

SOLUTION: Eating lots of fiber can help the body get rid of excess estrogen through digestion. The more fiber you eat, the better your body can digest foods. Avoid foods that can cause estrogen levels to rise, such as soy, excess sugar, and non-organic meat and dairy. Don’t use Teflon pans and never heat food in plastic containers, since the chemicals can seep into your food and raise your estrogen levels. Learn more about how to cut down on sugar here.

 

Progesterone

Progesterone is a hormone produced in the ovaries, placenta (when pregnant), and adrenal glands. It is responsible for fertility and menstruation and also helps balance estrogen.

 

PROBLEM: Not having enough progesterone can cause weight gain. Less than optimal progesterone levels can lead to excess estrogen in the body, which can turn more calories into fat.

 

SOLUTION: Progesterone prevents excessive estrogen in the body, helps your thyroid hormones function better, lowers your insulin levels, helps you sleep, and reduces fluid retention, which all help you lose weight. Having not enough progesterone is more common than having too much. You can increase your levels of progesterone naturally by avoiding foods that cause estrogen levels to rise, such as soy foodsexcess sugar, and non-organic meat and dairy. You can also add more fiber to your diet and eat more foods that are high in:

 

  • Magnesium – Spinach, Pumpkin, Squash, Okra, Nuts & Seeds, Plantains
  • Vitamin B6 – Sunflower Seeds, Walnuts, Red Meat and Poultry, Bananas, Spinach, Seafood
  • Vitamin C – Yellow Peppers, Dark Green Leafy Vegetables (Kale), Kiwi, Broccoli, Oranges
  • Vitamin E – Almonds, Sunflower Seeds, Olive Oil, Shellfish (Shrimp)
  • Zinc – Red Meat, Shellfish (Oysters), Dark Chocolate, Pumpkin
  • L-Arginine – Turkey, Chicken, Pumpkin Seeds

 

You can also improve progesterone levels by lowering stress. When you are stressed over an extended period of time, the adrenal glands convert progesterone to cortisol (stress hormone). Practice yoga, swimming, meditation, or whatever you find useful for quieting your mind to reduce stress and cortisol, to boost progesterone.

 

Lastly, you can supplement with chasteberry, an herb scientifically proven to improve progesterone production. It’s also used for PMS, irregular menses, and support of early pregnancy when there is a history of potential progesterone imbalance. It works by stimulating the pituitary gland to produce more luteinizing hormone, which, in turn, signals the ovaries to produce more progesterone.

 

Testosterone

Testosterone is produced by the testes in men and primarly by the ovaries in women. It is responsible for male characteristics in men but also plays an important role in women. It helps increase muscle mass, bone density, and libido.

 

PROBLEM: Low testosterone levels in either men or women can lead to a loss of muscle mass, which can lead to weight gain since muscle cells use more energy than fat cells and metabolism is slowed.

 

SOLUTION: Research has found that performing muscle-building exercises, getting enough sleep, eating an adequate amount of healthy fats and proteins, reducing and managing stress, and getting enough vitamin D, can all naturally boost testosterone levels, which can help you lose weight.

 

Leptin

Also called the “fat hormone” or “fullness hormone,” leptin is made by fat cells and is responsible for telling your brain that you have enough energy stored as fat so that your body can burn energy at a normal rate, eat a normal amount, and exercise at a normal rate. The lower your leptin levels are, the lower your metabolism and the hungrier you become. Leptin is often responsible for weight loss plateaus, when you can’t seem to lose any more weight when dieting.

 

PROBLEM: Leptin levels are cut in half after 2 weeks of dieting. When you diet, you eat less and your fat cells lose some fat, which then decreases the amount of leptin produced. Your brain begins to sense starvation, which then slows your metabolism, makes you want to eat more, and exercise at a slower rate. This leads to weight gain.

 

SOLUTION: Having a cheat meal can boost your metabolism is by increasing levels of leptin. Throwing a calorie-rich cheat meal tricks your system into thinking food is plentiful and that it’s OK to burn through fat stores. In the context of strict dieting, cheat meals can aid weight loss by temporarily boosting leptin. But if you’ve been lax with your meal plan, the leptin argument is a moot point. In other words, you have to be nice before you can afford to be naughty.

Ghrelin

Also called the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin is an appetite increaser. The higher the level of ghrelin we have, the hungrier we become. It is released primarily by the stomach and signals hunger to the brain.

 

PROBLEMResearch shows that ghrelin levels increase when dieting, causing hunger and weight gain.

 

SOLUTION: Increase your sleep to ensure you get at least 7-8 hours. Research also shows that increasing muscle, eating more protein, and having a cheat meal can lower ghrelin levels and help you lose weight.

 

Insulin

Insulin’s job is to tell the cells in your body how to use sugar (glucose). Your body can either use glucose as energy or store it as fat.

 

PROBLEM: When insulin levels become too high, such as what happens with a high-carb diet that leads to high insulin levels, the cells aren’t able to use it for energy and it is then stored as fat.

 

SOLUTION: To prevent high insulin levels, avoid sugary drinks, choose whole-grains instead of refined grains, eat more fiber, eat healthy fats, cut down on portion sizes, eat plenty of protein, and get plenty of exercise to help you lose weight.

DHEA

One of the most abundant hormones in the body, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is primarily produced by the adrenal glands and is converted into many other hormones in the body. It is responsible for building lean muscle mass and preventing excessive fat in the body, preventing bone loss, lowering inflammation, protecting your brain, and increasing libido.
  

 

PROBLEM: DHEA levels are rapidly declining in men and women, especially after the age of 30. This leads to fatigue and weight gain.

 

SOLUTION: Eat healthy fats that are high in omega 3 fatty acids, such as wild-caught fish, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. You can also take a DHEA supplement, but check with your healthcare provider beforehand, since taking a DHEA supplement isn’t right for everyone.

 

Insulin

Insulin’s job is to tell the cells in your body how to use sugar (glucose). Your body can either use glucose as energy or store it as fat.

 

PROBLEM: When insulin levels become too high, such as what happens with a high-carb diet that leads to high insulin levels, the cells aren’t able to use it for energy and it is then stored as fat.

 

SOLUTION: To prevent high insulin levels, avoid sugary drinks, choose whole-grains instead of refined grains, eat more fiber, eat healthy fats, cut down on portion sizes, eat plenty of protein, and get plenty of exercise to help you lose weight.

 

Serotonin

Serotonin is a powerful hormone that helps regulate mood, hunger, sleep, and even body temperature.

 

PROBLEM: When serotonin levels are low, we feel depressed or down, which can cause food cravings, especially for sugars and starches.

 

SOLUTION: According to research, 3 ways to increase serotonin levels naturally are to exercise every day (at least 30 minutes), get enough sunlight every day (about 10-15 minutes), and consume foods containing tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is sometimes thought of as the “turkey hormone” that causes sleepiness. Foods that contain high levels of tryptophan include nuts and seeds, meat, fish and shellfish, and dairy.

 

Thyroid

The thyroid gland is a small organ that releases a hormone that regulates metabolism and helps control breathing, heart rate, muscle strength, body weight and temperature, and more.

 

PROBLEM: Since thyroid hormone regulates metabolism, an underactive thyroid that doesn’t produce enough hormones can cause slow metabolism and weight gain. In general, 5-10 pounds of body weight may be caused by not enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism).

 

SOLUTION: Eating thyroid-boosting fats such as coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and fish oil, as well as cutting down on processed foods and sugars, can help naturally boost thyroid function.

 

In addition, making sure you have enough iodine in your diet can also help, since iodine deficiency is a common cause of hypothyroidism. The Institute of Medicine reports the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for iodine is 150 micrograms for adults, 220 micrograms during pregnancy and 290 micrograms of iodine daily for breast-feeding women. Although sea salt has lower levels of iodine (unless it is iodized), it is better for you since it is less processed and has higher amounts of magnesium, potassium, and calcium than table salt.

 

Cortisol

Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” is produced in the adrenal glands and helps regulate blood sugar levels and metabolism, fluid balance in the body, and the immune response (the ability to fight infection).

 

PROBLEM: Stress causes cortisol levels to rise, and if this occurs over a prolonged period of time, you can develop food cravings, blood sugar imbalances, and fat storage.

 

SOLUTION: Decrease your caffeine intake, get enough sleep (at least 7-8 hours per night), manage stress (e.g. meditation), and exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes a day). However, don’t exercise too strenuously, as this can cause cortisol levels to rise and make the problem worse in the short term. Focus on exercises that also promote relaxation, such as yoga, walking, or swimming. If you do more vigorous workouts, keep them shorter in length or take longer breaks between reps.

 

Adiponectin

Made by fat cells, adiponectin is a hormone that regulates how the body uses sugar (glucose) for energy.

 

PROBLEM: Adiponectin levels are lower in people who are overweight or obese and in those who are insulin-resistant (which leads to excess sugar in the blood stream). Eating a high-carbohydrate diet can also lower levels. The lower the level of adiponectin, the less the body can use sugar for energy, which is then stored as fat, causing weight gain.

 

SOLUTION: Eating more fiber and less refined carbohydrates can help increase levels of adiponectin. Also, making sure you are getting enough magnesium may help as well. Research has found that eating a Mediterranean Diet rich in olive oil and fish oil may increase adiponectin. There’s another benefit of following the French Paleo Burn diet!

 

Glucagon

Produced by the pancreas, glucagon is also known as the “weight loss hormone.” It has the opposite function of insulin. While insulin helps store fat, glucagon helps burn it.

 

PROBLEM: Being overweight or obese and eating “bad carbs” can cause insulin levels to remain high, causing more weight gain.

 

SOLUTION: Avoiding “bad” carbs such as sugar, refined white flour, and processed snacks can help regulate your insulin levels, which will then in turn help regulate your glucagon levels and help you lose weight.

 

Vitamin D

Did you know that vitamin D is actually a hormone? It’s mostly known for its role in the development of strong bones, but it also helps regulate weight.

 

PROBLEM: Would you believe that the majority of the population — up to 90 percent of adults in the United States — is believed to have a vitamin D deficiency? With more time spent indoors, and increased use of sunscreen, vitamin D levels are dropping. Many physicians are starting to take this vitamin deficiency very seriously. In fact, vitamin D is one of the most recommended supplements by physicians today.

 

Research shows that people who have a vitamin D deficiency are more likely to be overweight or obese. Vitamin D works together with leptin (a “fat hormone”) to signal the brain that you are full and to stop eating. When vitamin D levels are low, there is a disruption in the signal, which may cause you to overeat. In addition, vitamin D deficiency can cause fatigue, making you feel too tired to exercise.

 

SOLUTION: While eating foods high in vitamin D can help, the best way to get enough is through sunlight. Most experts recommend getting about 10-15 minutes daily of direct sunlight without wearing sunscreen if you are fair to medium toned. If you have darker skin, you may need more time in the sun to make enough vitamin D since your skin has more natural protection against the sun’s effects. Some experts recommend that darker toned people spend about 40 minutes to one hour in the sun daily if possible. Worried about the damaging effects of sun exposure? Use sunscreen only on areas with the most exposure, such as shoulders, nose, and back of neck, and don’t stay in the sun longer than needed.

 

Treating vitamin D deficiency with supplements should be done under medical supervision. Since it can be stored in the body for a long period of time, levels can become too high and can cause problems. You should begin by having your vitamin D blood level taken and evaluated. If the results show that you truly are deficient, you will be started on a course of treatment to bring your blood level into the optimal range. According to research on vitamin D optimization, the standard treatment for vitamin D deficiency is eight weeks of 50,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D once a week. After this time, your levels will again be tested and either this course will continue or you will be placed on a maintenance dose of vitamin D.

 

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Carissa Alinat ARNP

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