Hormones: There is so Much to Know

by Cathy Clements, Nutritionist & Life Coach, NASM CNC, CPT, FNS, WFS

The human body is interesting to me. Everything within it is interconnected.

We talk about weight gain and tend to dwell on “insulin resistance,” when there are many hormones affecting hunger and weight gain. The ones most discussed with hunger are leptin, ghrelin and insulin. But there are others, even our sex hormones; estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

Let’s start with “insulin resistance.” It’s all over television that it causes weight gain. Insulin is a peptide hormone produced mostly in the pancreas. The simplest way to describe it, is it aids in bringing blood sugar back down after we ingest food.

Insulin decides how much fat to store and how much to convert for energy expenditure. One way to combat “insulin resistance” is to focus on regular exercise, a healthy diet and better sleep habits.

Ghrelin is a hormone produced by the gastrointestinal tract, and is often called a “hunger hormone” because it increases the drive to eat. Ghrelin is the opposite of leptin.

Leptin is a protein hormone predominantly made by adipose cells, and it aids in regulating long-term energy balance. Leptin signals the body that it has enough food and says “stop eating.” It has been said that eating fast and excessively can override leptin.

How do the sex hormones affect hunger and weight gain?

Testosterone helps burn fat, strengthen bones and build muscles. But due to age or stress, testosterone levels can be reduced. This decreases muscle mass in turn, decreasing fat burning and can add to weight gain as we age.

During perimenopause, the first hormone that decreases is usually progesterone. This can lead to estrogen dominance, a common symptom of which is weight. Having progesterone too low in comparison to estrogen may result in increased insulin, increased belly fat and a decreased metabolism. It can drop due to stress or menopause.

Both low and high levels of estrogen can lead to weight gain. High levels stress the cells that produce insulin. This makes our body insulin resistant and leads to high glucose levels, which in turn lead to weight gain.

A couple of ways to keep estrogen levels in balance include avoiding alcohol consumption, eating processed meat and working out regularly. Also, eating fresh fruits and vegetables can help maintain estrogen levels.