If you are putting weight on easily and having a hard time taking it off, you should know that hormonal imbalances affect weight-loss and weight gain and could be part of the problem or maybe even the whole problem. In fact, some hormonal imbalances can make it down right impossible to lose weight!
With the new year beginning, lots of folks make resolutions about losing weight. Sometimes they get frustrated when they don’t see results and end up giving up all together. What many people don’t realize is that there can be many underlying health issues which impede weight loss attempts. Not only that, but these same issues can actually be the cause of the weight gain in the first place.
Hormone and other imbalances can very likely be the reason. We frequently get phone calls from patients who are desperate for help because the pounds keep packing on no matter what they do. Unfortunately, many of them have sought help from their doctor, only to be told that they just need to eat less and exercise more, period. This not only leads to feelings of shame, but also helplessness and can be quite demoralizing.
Common Issues Where Hormonal Imbalances Affect Weight Loss
In addition to circumstances where hormones affect weight loss, there are other factors that can impede weight loss such as Candida (an overgrowth of yeast in the gut) and sleep deprivation. But first, let’s discuss the hormone issues.
Insulin Resistance is a condition that affects millions of Americans and many don’t even know that they have it. Insulin is a hormone that is made by the pancreas and it’s activated whenever we eat. Its main job is to act as a key to unlock the cells so that glucose (blood sugar) can enter and give us energy from our food. Insulin also regulates blood sugar levels.
What happens is that the cells themselves become resistant to insulin and can’t utilize it like they should. This causes blood sugar levels to stay high (up to 7 times higher than normal) in the bloodstream, affecting your metabolism because it inhibits the body’s ability to metabolize fats.
Higher insulin levels signal the body to store more fat, especially around the abdominal area. This particular fat (also called visceral fat) is hazardous to health and can cause fatty liver disease and increased Inflammation levels. This can lead to many serious diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.
High triglycerides, a form of cholesterol (and one of the causes of Insulin Resistance), greatly contributes to cardiovascular related diseases and, over time, can increase a person’s risk of death. Belly fat in turn also releases higher levels of triglycerides into the system so it becomes a double whammy.
The two biggest causes of Insulin Resistance are eating a diet high in processed foods and sugars along with not getting enough exercise. A poor diet not only leads to obesity, but it also creates an imbalance in the health of the gut microbiome.
Insulin Resistance can also lead to Syndrome X, also referred to as Metabolic Syndrome. This occurs when a person has high blood pressure, elevated glucose levels, abnormal cholesterol, and excess abdominal fat. These issues are a recipe for disease and will almost certainly contribute to a life of poor health and early death if they are not addressed at their root cause. Dr. Mark Hyman, the director of functional medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and best-selling author refers to insulin resistance as the “fat cell fertilizer.”
The easiest way to reverse Insulin Resistance is to exercise and to change the diet. Not only does exercise help you to burn calories in order to lose weight, it also causes muscles to be more insulin SENSITIVE and open the cell doors to receive glucose. Fad diets or calorie-restricted diets are not needed to reverse resistance; all that’s needed is to cut out processed foods and foods high in sugar and increase physical activity. These two things alone will go a long way towards better health.
Our providers always check insulin levels as part of our routine lab work. Other providers usually only test blood sugar levels and the A1C which will show whether or not a person is diabetic. We test those things AND insulin because we understand the role that Insulin Resistance can have on overall health and weight loss. The only lab test that can confirm Insulin Resistance is to test the amount of insulin in the body, since blood sugar levels may not be elevated with this condition.
Thyroid hormones are another one of the common hormonal imbalances that affect weight loss. Currently, one in five women and one in ten men in the United States have an underactive thyroid gland, referred to as Hypothyroidism. Symptoms include weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and more. What’s particularly concerning is that over half of the hypothyroid population is undiagnosed.
Often, folks are eating right and exercising and doing all of the right things for their health, but if the thyroid is low functioning, it causes the entire metabolism to be slow which makes weight gain likely, often in short periods of time. Hypothyroidism also makes it much harder to lose weight even with proper diet and exercise.
The mainstream medical profession does test TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) during routine lab work however, other thyroid problems exist which will not show up on this test. We get hundreds of calls a month from patients who have either been told that they are testing in the “normal” TSH range, and therefore do not have a thyroid problem, OR they’ve been prescribed T4 hormone in the form of Synthroid or Levothyroxine, but they are not feeling any better.
T4 is the hormone made by the thyroid gland that is secreted throughout the body. However, T4 needs to be converted into T3 hormone in order for the cells to function properly and be converted into energy. Not everyone can convert T4 in to T3; it’s actually quite a common problem. When this is the case, no amount of Synthroid or Levothyroxine is going to correct an underactive thyroid.
Additionally, a common cause of hypothyroidism is a condition called Hashimoto’s Disease. This is an autoimmune disorder in which antibodies attack the thyroid gland which cause degradation to the gland itself. Over time, this causes the thyroid to be unable to produce enough hormone for the body’s needs.
Our providers at Leigh Ann Scott, M.D. ALWAYS run a full thyroid panel test to determine exactly where the problem is originating so that it can be treated correctly. Once the root cause of the problem is identified and treatment protocol begins, patients begin to feel better within just a few weeks and their metabolism starts to function like it should again.
Another one of the hormone imbalances that affect weight loss is cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and is also referred to as the stress or “fight or flight” hormone. Obviously, our ancestors needed this to survive. If faced with danger or imminent death, cortisol levels and adrenaline would rise. This caused all energy to be diverted to the heart, lungs, and muscles in order to fight for survival or flee for one’s life. When the “fight or flight” mechanism kicks in, blood flow to the digestive system slows down and your body starts storing fat.
The problem is that in the modern world, our brains have this same stress response when we worry or have fear that something will happen. You may work at a stressful job that requires time demands and multi-tasking. A relative may be ill or your child might be having problems in school. Physical illness, chronic poor health, or trauma also puts stress on the body.
The adrenal glands don’t have any way of differentiating between being chased by a lion or having a stressful job; they perceive both as danger regardless, which can keep the body in an almost constant state of “fight or flight.” This is normal in the short run, but if it goes on for long periods of time, prolonged stress and high levels of cortisol can cause high blood pressure, elevated glucose levels, increased belly fat, and even muscle loss. If we don’t know how to manage our stress levels the adrenal glands produce less and less cortisol which leads to another condition called adrenal fatigue which causes a chronically sluggish metabolism.
Adrenal fatigue affects not only the entire endocrine system, but also makes it harder to cope with every-day life events and makes us much less resilient and more prone to disease.
Many associate the testosterone hormone with men, but women need this too, just in smaller quantities. There are a lot of things that can cause low testosterone such as obesity and alcoholism, but the most common cause is age. Levels begin to wane for both men and women in their late twenties to early thirties and by the time we’re fifty, levels are about half of what they once were at their peak.
Testosterone has a lot of functions. It is responsible for building and maintaining muscle mass and skin tone. When levels are low, visible changes can be seen as fat starts to dominate over muscle mass and skin begins to sag. It has been said that testosterone gives us the “pep in our step” and helps to keep us vital.
Another big role that testosterone has is that it helps activate insulin, and thus, if levels are low, can contribute to insulin resistance issues and as we’ve already discussed, insulin resistance causes increased belly fat.
For more information about the symptoms of low-T in women, click here.
Estrogen is another on of the hormonal imbalances that affect weight loss and can occur at any age. If the ratio of estrogen to progesterone (more estrogen, not enough progesterone) is off, a condition called Estrogen Dominance occurs. It is also possible to have deficient estrogen levels and still have Estrogen Dominance if progesterone levels are very low.
This is common, especially as women enter their forties and begin their transition into menopause (also referred to as perimenopause). Progesterone is usually the first hormone to wane which creates an imbalance between the two hormones. One of the symptoms of Estrogen Dominance is weight gain, especially around the abdominal area. Remember too, that belly fat causes insulin levels to rise, and can be a cause of Insulin Resistance.
As we reach the menopausal years and ovarian production of estrogen declines, the body looks for other sources for estrogen. One storage source for estrogen is in the fat cells. Our bodies react to this by converting more of the calories that we do eat into fat so as to have more estrogen to draw upon. Declining estrogen levels, just like testosterone, also cause muscle mass to decline, resulting in more fat on the body.
While Candida is not a hormone, it can be a contributing cause of weight gain. It’s a fungus that’s usually found on the skin, in the mouth, the vagina, and also in the gut. It requires a steady supply of sugar and carbohydrates to flourish. One symptom of candida overgrowth is strong sugar cravings.
Other things that can make someone particularly susceptible to candida infections are eating a diet high in sugar and/or refined carbs, alcohol abuse, diabetes, use of antibiotics (particularly if prolonged or repeated) or a weakened immune system. When candida becomes prominent in the gut, it can cause changes to the gut wall, which causes the barrier to be compromised, and these toxins are released into the body. The liver which is responsible for flushing toxins, can quickly become overloaded and can’t keep up, so it stores the excess candida to be filtered at a later time. Unfortunately, the “storage area” lies in the fat cells around the midsection.
The adrenal glands are particularly vulnerable to candida toxins and react by producing even more cortisol which establishes a pattern of storing body fat rather than using it for energy.
Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep both contribute to weight gain. There have been numerous studies regarding the connection between the two by the National Institute of Health. One study suggests that “short duration sleepers” are 88% more likely to be obese compared to people who are getting the proper amount of rest.
Chronic lack of sleep doesn’t just affect obesity levels; it adversely affects every biological system in the body and can lead to disease and early death. It’s also been proven that someone who has been awake for 16 hours or more gets behind the wheel is just as impaired as someone driving under the influence of alcohol.
We offer informed discussions about ways to obtain higher quality sleep based on your lab results and symptoms to help find solutions specific to your needs.
Leigh Ann Scott, M.D. Providers
Dr. Scott and Nurse Practitioners Elise Lewis and Sue Miller understand how hormonal imbalances affect weight loss and overall health in general. We use a science-based, holistic approach to your health and treat you as an individual so you can look and feel your best.
If you are struggling with weight issues, we can give you answers and offer solutions so that you are able to restore your health and live a vibrant life again. Our appointments with you last an hour so that we’re able to provide you with quality support, guidance, and the tools you need in order to succeed.
For more information about Hormone Balancing click here.
For more information about our Medically Supervised Weight Loss Program, click here.