WEIGHT LOSS – The hormone link

Are you fed up with the standard health advice of eat less and exercise more to lose weight?  Unfortunately, the well-worn notion—that as long as you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight—is simply wrong.  The same number of calories from different types of food can have very different biological effects. Equally different foods can have very different effects on hormones. And for many people hormonal imbalances are the underlying reasons why they struggle to lose weight.

Here is a quick overview of some of the key hormones

Insulin – Fat Storer

You have probably heard of insulin – this hormone is particularly influenced by our carbohydrate intake. When you consume foods that raise your blood sugar you will produce insulin. Part of insulin’s roles is to inhibit the breakdown of fat cells and stimulates the creation of body fat. So insulin tells the body to stop burning its fat stores and instead, absorb some of the fatty acids and glucose in the blood and turn them into more body fat. High levels of insulin over time can also cause your body to become resistant to this hormone which will mean you will find it difficult to burn fat.  If you want to keep levels down reduce your consumption of carbohydrates particularly refined carbs (including fruit juices and smoothies) and stop snacking.


Glucagon – Fat Burner

Glucagon is often thought of as a fat burner.  Put simply it has the opposite role of insulin, because higher levels of glucagon in the body enable the body to burn fat instead of storing it.  So if you have fasted for a while and your body requires more glucose this hormone will stimulate fat burning. When insulin levels are low then glucagon can begin to help the body burn fat.  If you want to increase glucagon make sure you don’t over eat, limit snacking and keep carbs low.

Ghrelin –Hunger pangs?

When your body is feeling hungry (and I don’t mean emotionally hungry) the chances are you have high levels of the hormone ghrelin. When this hormone is high it is also likely that you are burning fat. Another good reason to only eat when you actually need to and not to over eat.


Thyroid Hormones – metabolism booster

For many of my clients who have been struggling to lose weight despite careful eating it is often the thyroid that needs attention. Thyroid hormones influence our metabolic processes including our ability to burn fat.  This hormone is sensitive to many factors including sleep, stress, the type of physical activity and nutritional deficiencies. Another problem can also be chronic dieting which can cause the body to slow down it’s metabolism.  But stress in particular which can interfere with thyroid function can be an important player.

Cortisol – The Stress Effect

Cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands has a profound effect on weight loss. With our 24/7 lifestyle our body typically thinks we are chronically under stress. This can mean our levels of cortisol are often too high or too low which can lead to not only low energy levels but difficulty in burning fat.  Cortisol for example plays a catabolic role breaking down muscle. When our body is under stress cortisol releases glucose into the bloodstream which can increase insulin levels and in turn encourage fat storage. It is only when we have imbalances in cortisol that it is a problem of course. Making sure you get sufficient sleep and rest in addition to getting your nutrition right can positively influence this hormone to make it work for you rather than against.

Leptin – Hungry or Full?

Leptin is a hormone that is produced by the body’s fat cells. It tells the brain how much fat you have on your body to burn. It is often referred to as the “satiety hormone” or the “starvation hormone.” The fat cells use leptin to “tell” the brain how much body fat they carry. Lots of leptin tells the brain that we have plenty of fat stored, while low levels of leptin tell the brain that fat stores are low and that we are at risk of starvation.  Because fat cells produce leptin in proportion to their size, obese people have very high levels of leptin. Now if leptin is working properly you would think that if you carry more fat your brain would signal to you to eat less. However, the problem is that for many the leptin signal isn’t working. There may be loads of leptin but the brain is not responding to it.  This condition is known as leptin resistance and it results in the brain changing our behaviour – typically it actually makes us eat more as the brain thinks we may starve. It also can affect our energy expenditure and influence the thyroid as the brain thinks we need to conserve energy.  To address leptin resistance or the risk of it you should not chronically over eat or starve the body. Address any underlying inflammation in the body too. Inflammatory signalling in the hypothalamus is likely an important cause of leptin resistance in both animals and humans. Eating slowly helps to support levels of leptin and allows the brain to register that you have eaten enough. Physical activity may also help to reverse leptin resistance. Having high blood triglycerides can prevent the transport of leptin from blood and into the brain. The best way to lower triglycerides is to reduce carbohydrate intake.


Human Growth Hormone (HGH) – Muscle builder

HGH helps you to build muscle and burn fat at the same time.  This is why it is often referred to as the anti-aging hormone.  Lack of sleep and being sedentary makes this hormone almost nonexistent in the body. To maintain optimal levels of HGH you need to get sufficient sleep and include exercise in short intense bursts of no more than 30-40 minutes at a time.  Making sure you get enough protein in your diet is also important

Sex hormones

You just need to look at the body shape of men and women to realize the influence sex hormones can have on fat storage. For women oestrogen and progesterone have an influence on fat storage while for men levels of testosterone play a greater role. But men require oestrogen and women also are influenced by testosterone. It the balance and amount of these hormones that is important. For example, oestrogen can be both a fat storage and fat burning hormone. It is not surprising for example that younger women pre menopause tend not to struggle with fat gain as much as older women when levels of oestrogen plummet. Getting sufficient sleep and enough protein and healthy fats in the diet can help balance these hormones and for older women a plant based diet may be helpful.

We often blame ourselves for being overweight – there are many factors working against us. It is unlikely to be greed or a lack of willpower that is to blame. It’s not just hormones that can influence your weight of course but you can make a real difference by addressing the quality of your diet as well as making lifestyle changes to tackle stress, inactivity or poor sleep.