I do a Facebook Live every Thursday at 8pm. Last week I spoke about Hormones – Are they making you fat? And How do we balance our hormones? I thought I would share this information with you in my blog.
The relationship between hormones and weight loss/weight gain is important to understand. Being overweight or underweight affects your hormones and, conversely, your hormones can make it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.
Hormones and weight loss
Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through your bloodstream to your tissues or organs. Even a slight hormonal imbalance may have a significant effect on different processes in your body – including metabolism.
Being underweight can disrupt hormones, making it hard for you to get the nutrients you need. Similarly, people with hormone imbalances may find it harder to lose weight and decrease fat. Disrupted hormones make it easier to gain weight and fat and harder to lose it, as well as affecting where fat tends to accumulate.
The following are some of the hormones linked to the ability to lose weight:
After your fat cells release leptin, the hormone travels to your brain to let your body know you’re full. But when you eat large amounts of fructose – a type of sugar found in fruit and processed foods –the fructose is converted to fat that produces more leptin. When your brain receives too much of this hormone, it begins to become leptin-resistant over time. As a result, you don’t get the signal that you’re full and will tend to overeat.
Insulin processes the sugar in your blood and moves it into the cells, where it’s used for energy or stored as fat. Eating too much sugar or carbohydrates and failing to consume enough protein and fiber can increase your levels of insulin, which may lead to insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
Cortisol helps regulate your metabolism and manage stress. Depression, anxiety and digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may increase your body’s cortisol production and cause an increased appetite, as well as a greater tendency to store fat in your abdomen.
- Thyroid hormones
Produced by the thyroid gland, thyroid hormones help regulate your body’s metabolism.When you don’t have enough of these important hormones, your metabolism slows down, resulting in weight gain and trouble losing weight.
In men, abdominal fat can cause estrogen levels to rise, which in turn accelerates further abdominal fat retention. In premenopausal women, estrogen may cause the accumulation of fat around the hips and make losing weight more difficult.
Men’s testosterone levels tend to decrease if they’re obese or under stress. Similarly, low testosterone can make men more likely to develop body fat, including a potbelly.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is primarily produced by the adrenal gland and is also made in the brain. It aids in the production of estrogen and may also help boost metabolism, facilitating fat and weight loss.
Understanding how your body works can help you create a plan for a healthier you.
How do we fix a hormonal imbalance?
1. Eat Enough Protein at Every Meal
Consuming an adequate amount of protein is extremely important.
Dietary protein provides essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own and must be consumed every day in order to maintain muscle, bone and skin health.
In addition, protein influences the release of hormones that control appetite and food intake.
Research has shown that eating protein decreases levels of the “hunger hormone” Ghrelin and stimulates the production of hormones that help you feel full, Leptin.
To optimize hormone health, experts recommend consuming a minimum of 20–30 grams of protein per meal.
This is easy to do by including a serving of these high-protein foods at each meal.
Consuming adequate protein triggers the production of hormones that suppress appetite and help you feel full. Aim for a minimum of 20–30 grams of protein per meal.
2. Engage in Regular Exercise
Physical activity can strongly influence hormonal health. A major benefit of exercise is its ability to reduce insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
Insulin is a hormone that has several functions. One is allowing cells to take up sugar and amino acids from the bloodstream, which are then used for energy and maintaining muscle.
However, a little insulin goes a long way. Too much can be dangerous.
High insulin levels have been linked to inflammation, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. What’s more, they are connected to insulin resistance, a condition in which your cells don’t respond properly to insulin’s signals.
Many types of physical activity have been found to increase insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin levels, including aerobic exercise, strength training and endurance exercise.
Being physically active may also help boost levels of muscle-maintaining hormones that decline with age, such as testosterone, IGF-1, DHEA and growth hormone.
For people who are unable to perform vigorous exercise, even regular walking may increase these hormone levels, potentially improving strength and quality of life.
Although a combination of resistance and aerobic training seems to provide the best results, engaging in any type of physical activity on a regular basis is beneficial.
Performing strength training, aerobics, walking or other forms of physical activity can modify hormone levels in a way that reduces the risk of disease and protects muscle mass during the aging process.
3. Avoid Sugar and Refined Carbs
Sugar and refined carbs have been linked to a number of health problems.
Avoiding or minimising these foods may be instrumental in optimising hormone function and avoiding obesity, diabetes and other diseases.
Studies have consistently shown that fructose can increase insulin levels and promote insulin resistance, especially in overweight and obese people with pre-diabetes or diabetes
Importantly, fructose makes up at least half of most types of sugar. This includes natural forms like honey and maple syrup, in addition to high-fructose corn syrup and refined table sugar.
In one study, people with pre-diabetes experienced similar increases in insulin levels and insulin resistance whether they consumed 50 grams of honey, sugar or high-fructose corn syrup
In addition, diets high in refined carbs like white bread and pretzels may promote insulin resistance in a large portion of adults and adolescents.
By contrast, following a low- or moderate-carb diet based on whole foods may reduce insulin levels in overweight and obese people with prediabetes and other insulin-resistant conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Diets high in sugar and refined carbs have been shown to drive insulin resistance. Avoiding these foods and reducing overall carb intake may decrease insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
4. Learn to Manage Stress
Stress can wreak havoc on your hormones. Two major hormones affected by stress are cortisol and adrenaline, which is also called epinephrine.
Cortisol is known as “the stress hormone” because it helps your body cope with stress over the long term.
Adrenaline is the “fight-or-flight” hormone that provides your body with a surge of energy to respond to immediate danger.
However, unlike hundreds of years ago when these hormones were mainly triggered by threats from predators, today they’re usually triggered by people’s busy, often overwhelming lifestyles.
Unfortunately, chronic stress causes cortisol levels to remain elevated, which can lead to excessive calorie intake and obesity, including increased belly fat
Elevated adrenaline levels can cause high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and anxiety. However, these symptoms are usually short-lived because, unlike cortisol, adrenaline is less likely to become chronically elevated.
Research has shown that you may be able to lower your cortisol levels by engaging in stress-reducing techniques like meditation, yoga, massage and listening to relaxing music.
Try to devote at least 10–15 minutes per day to stress-reducing activities, even if you don’t feel you have the time.
Engaging in stress-reduction behaviours like meditation, yoga, massage and listening to soothing music can help normalise your levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
5. Consume Healthy Fats
Including high-quality natural fats in your diet may help reduce insulin resistance and appetite.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are unique fats that are taken up directly by the liver for immediate use as energy.
They have been shown to reduce insulin resistance in overweight and obese people, as well as in people with diabetes.
MCTs are found in coconut oil, palm oil and pure MCT oil.
Dairy fats and monounsaturated fat in olive oil and nuts also seem to increase insulin sensitivity, based on studies in healthy adults and those with diabetes, pre-diabetes, fatty liver and elevated triglycerides.
Additionally, studies have shown that consuming healthy fat at meals triggers the release of hormones that help you feel full and satisfied, including GLP-1, PYY and cholecystokinin (CCK).
On the other hand, trans fats have been found to promote insulin resistance and increase the storage of belly fat.
To optimise hormone health, consume a healthy fat source at each meal.
Including healthy natural fats in your diet and avoiding unhealthy trans fats can help reduce insulin resistance and stimulate the production of hormones that help control appetite.
6. Avoid Overeating and Under eating
Eating too much or too little may result in hormonal shifts that lead to weight problems.
Overeating is shown to increase insulin levels and reduce insulin sensitivity, especially in overweight and obese people who are insulin resistant
In one study, insulin-resistant obese adults who ate a 1,300-calorie meal experienced nearly twice the increase in insulin as lean people and “metabolically healthy” obese people who consumed an identical meal.
On the other hand, cutting your calorie intake too much can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to promote weight gain when it’s elevated.
One study found that restricting food intake to less than 1,200 calories per day led to increased cortisol levels.
Eating within your own personal calorie range can help you maintain hormonal balance and a healthy weight. Basal Metabolic Rate (DM for more info about this)
Consuming too many or too few calories can lead to hormonal imbalances. Aim to eat at least 1,200 calories per day for optimal health.
7. Drink Green Tea
Green tea is one of the healthiest beverages around.
In addition to metabolism-boosting caffeine, it contains an antioxidant known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been credited with several health benefits.
Research suggests that consuming green tea may increase insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels in both healthy people and those with insulin-resistant conditions like obesity and diabetes.
Since green tea has other health benefits and most studies suggest that it may provide some improvement in insulin response, you may want to consider drinking one to three cups per day.
Green tea has been linked to increased insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels for people who are overweight, obese or have diabetes.
8. Eat Fatty Fish Often
Fatty fish is by far the best source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which have impressive anti-inflammatory properties.
Research suggests they may also have beneficial effects on hormonal health, including reducing levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Some studies have found that increasing your intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids may reduce insulin resistance related to obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome and gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy in women.
For optimal health, include two or more servings per week of fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids may help lower cortisol and epinephrine, increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin levels in obese and insulin-resistant individuals.
9. Get Consistent, High-Quality Sleep
No matter how nutritious your diet is and how much exercise you get, your health will suffer if you don’t get enough restorative sleep.
Poor sleep has been linked to imbalances of many hormones, including insulin, cortisol, leptin, Ghrelin and growth hormone
It’s not only the quantity of sleep you get that matters. Quality of sleep is also important.
Your brain needs uninterrupted sleep that allows it to go through all five stages of each sleep cycle. This is especially important for the release of growth hormone, which occurs mainly at night during deep sleep.
To maintain optimal hormonal balance, aim for at least seven hours of high-quality sleep per night.
Inadequate or poor-quality sleep has been shown to decrease fullness hormones, increase hunger and stress hormones, reduce growth hormone and increase insulin resistance.
10. Stay Away From Sugary Beverages
Sugar in any form is unhealthy. However, liquid sugars appear to be the worst by far.
Studies suggest large amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages may contribute to insulin resistance, especially in overweight and obese adults and children.
Research has shown that drinking sugary beverages leads to excessive calorie intake because it doesn’t trigger the same fullness signals that eating solid foods does.
Avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages may be one of the best things you can do to improve your hormone balance.
High intake of sugary beverages has consistently been linked to higher insulin levels and insulin resistance in overweight and obese adults and children.
11. Consume a High-Fibre Diet
Fibre, especially the soluble type, is an important component of a healthy diet.
Studies have found that it increases insulin sensitivity and stimulates the production of hormones that make you feel full and satisfied.
Although soluble fibre tends to produce the strongest effects on appetite and eating, insoluble fibre may also play a role.
Both types of fibre caused a reduction in appetite.
To protect against insulin resistance and overeating, make sure you eat fibre-rich foods on a daily basis.
High fibre intake has been linked to improvements in insulin sensitivity and the hormones that control hunger, fullness and food intake.
12. Eat Eggs Anytime
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.
They’ve been shown to beneficially affect hormones that regulate food intake, including lowering levels of insulin and Ghrelin.
Importantly, these positive effects on hormones seem to occur when people eat both the egg yolk and egg white.
Most studies have looked at the effects of eating eggs at breakfast because that is when people typically consume them. However, these nutrition powerhouses can be eaten at any meal, and hard-boiled eggs make a great portable snack.
Eggs are extremely nutritious and may help reduce insulin resistance, suppress your appetite and make you feel full.
The Bottom Line
Your hormones are involved in every aspect of your health. You need them in very specific amounts for your body to function optimally.
Hormonal imbalances may increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems.
Despite the fact that ageing and other factors are beyond your control, there are many steps you can take to help your hormones function optimally.
Consuming nutritious foods, exercising on a regular basis and engaging in other healthy behaviours can go a long way toward improving you.