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How Hormonal Imbalances Affect Weight Loss

hormonal-weight-gain

Why am I putting on Weight? And WHY is it so HARD to take it off?

f you’re putting on weight easily and having a hard time taking it off, you should know that hormonal imbalances affect weight loss and weight gain. These imbalances could be part of the problem or the entire problem. In fact, some hormonal imbalances can make it downright impossible to lose weight!

Plenty of people attempt various diets and exercise programs with the intention of taking off excess weight. And it can be frustrating when they don’t see results — and can give up altogether.

What you may not realize is that many underlying health issues can impede weight loss attempts. These same issues can actually be the cause of the weight gain in the first place, in addition to poor diet and lack of exercise.

We frequently get phone calls from patients who are desperate for help because the pounds keep packing on no matter what they do. Hormone imbalances and other deficiencies can likely be the reason.

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 Hormonal Imbalances That Affect Weight Loss

  • Insulin
  • Thyroid
  • Cortisol
  • Testosterone
  • Estrogen

 

In addition to circumstances where hormones affect weight loss, other factors can impede weight loss. These include Candida (an overgrowth of yeast in the gut) and sleep deprivation. But first, let’s discuss hormone issues.

Insulin

Insulin resistance affects millions of Americans, and many don’t even know they have it.

The hormone insulin 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.

However, the cells themselves can become resistant to insulin and can’t use it as they should. This causes blood sugar levels to stay high (up to seven times higher than normal) in the bloodstream. This, in turn, affects the 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.

And this can lead to many serious diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.

High triglycerides, a form of cholesterol, are one cause of insulin resistance. These high triglycerides greatly contribute to cardiovascular-related diseases and, over time, can increase the risk of death.

Belly fat also releases more 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 and not getting enough exercise. A poor diet not only leads to obesity but also creates an imbalance in the gut microbiome.

Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome

Insulin resistance can 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 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 change your diet. Not only does exercise help you to burn calories so you can lose weight, but it also causes muscles to be more insulin SENSITIVE and open the cell doors to receive glucose.

You don’t need fad diets or calorie-restricted diets to reverse resistance. Instead, cut out processed and high-sugar foods and increase physical activity. These two things alone will go a long way toward better health.

Our providers always check insulin levels as part of our routine lab work. We understand the role that Insulin Resistance can have on both weight and overall health. Other providers usually only test blood sugar levels and the A1C, which will show whether a person is diabetic.

However, blood sugar levels may not be elevated with Insulin Resistance, so it’s important to test the amount of insulin in the body. That’s why we test blood sugar levels, A1C, AND insulin.

Thyroid

Currently, one in five women and one in ten men in the United States have an underactive thyroid gland. This condition is called 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 remains undiagnosed.

Often, folks are eating right, exercising, and doing all of the right things for their health. However, if the thyroid is low functioning, it causes the entire metabolism to be slow. And this can make weight gain likely, often in short periods of time.

Hypothyroidism also makes it much harder to lose weight, even with proper diet and exercise.

Additionally, Hashimoto’s Disease is a common cause of hypothyroidism.  In this autoimmune disorder, antibodies attack the thyroid gland and cause degradation to the gland itself. Over time, the thyroid can’t produce enough hormones for the body’s needs.

Comprehensive Thyroid Testing

Conventional medicine doctors 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 and secreted throughout the body. However, T4 needs to be converted into T3 hormone in order for the cells to function properly and produce energy.

And not everyone can convert T4 into 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. 

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 as it should again.

Cortisol

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and is 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 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 have problems in school. Physical illness, chronic poor health, or trauma also put 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, 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. And this 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 everyday life events and makes us much less resilient and more prone to disease.

Testosterone

We often associate the testosterone hormone with men, but women need testosterone as well — just in smaller quantities.

A lot of things 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 many functions. It is responsible for building and maintaining muscle mass and skin tone. When levels are low, 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 of testosterone is to help activate insulin. So low testosterone levels can contribute to insulin resistance issues. And as we’ve already discussed, insulin resistance causes increased belly fat.

Estrogen

Estrogen imbalance 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 symptom 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 of estrogen. One storage source for estrogen is in the fat cells.

Our bodies react to this by converting more of the calories that we eat into fat to have more estrogen to draw upon. Declining estrogen levels, just like testosterone, also cause muscle mass to decline, resulting in more body fat.

Candida

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, mouth, vagina, and also the gut.

Candida 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)
  • a weakened immune system

 

When candida becomes prominent in the gut, it can cause changes to the gut wall. This, then, compromises the barrier and releases toxins into the body.

The liver, 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.

Sleep

Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep both contribute to weight gain. The National Institutes of Health provide many studies showing the connection between the two.

One study suggests that “short-duration sleepers” are 88% more likely to be obese compared to people who get 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 and gets behind the wheel is just as impaired as someone driving under the influence of alcohol.

We offer informed discussions about ways to get higher-quality sleep based on your lab results and symptoms, and we help you find solutions specific to your needs.

Our Providers

Our providers 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 you can restore your health and live a vibrant life again. Our appointments provide you with quality support, guidance, and the tools you need to succeed.

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