Weight Loss Part 4 - Hormones, Hormones, Hormones
We’ve come to the final part of our weight loss series, and if you’ve been following along, you may have come to realize that hormones play an integral role in our ability to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. I’ll recap some of the hormones I’ve already mentioned and I’ll introduce some others. Like it or not, they have some control over our weight. Let’s get started with the new introductions.
The Thyroid The thyroid is the master gland of metabolism. This gland and the hormones it produces decide how high our fat-burning engines run. When regulation of this gland is imbalanced losing weight can be difficult. Most people who are familiar with the thyroid are probably all too familiar with iodine. This element is important to the thyroid because it is a major component of thyroid hormone. But the thyroid doesn’t exist in a vacuum within our bodies. It isn’t completely isolated running on its own systems. Its function is dependent upon the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. After thyroid hormones are released into the blood stream, our cells’ ability to use that hormone is dependent upon enzymes, some of which are influenced by the liver. You really can’t expect dramatic changes if you ignore all those other body systems. Bottom line – iodine doesn’t really do anything for those other body systems.
First and foremost, we need to make sure that the hypothalamus and the pituitary are communicating with the thyroid. If the pituitary never tells the thyroid to make and release hormone, it never will. Adaptogens like Ashwagandha do a good job making sure those lines of communication are open and running smoothly. In order for the body to utilize the hormones produced by the thyroid, they must first be converted to a usable form. Think of the process of refining oil into gasoline. What the thyroid releases is a rough, crude form of thyroid hormone. Before it can be taken up by the cells and boost metabolism, it must first go through a refining process in the liver.
Therefore, a healthy liver is quite important to a healthy thyroid. Many of us have tried severe calorie-restricted diets to lose weight; however, what many of us don’t realize is that these starvation diets can be counter-productive to lasting weight loss. Starvation, or large restrictions of calories, triggers a decrease in thyroid function and metabolism. This decrease actually leads to your body storing more calories as fat and burning muscle tissue for energy.
Estrogen “Estrogen” actually refers to a group of hormones, not just a single hormone. Normally, estrogen is balanced with progesterone, the other primary female sex hormone. At times, the balance can be tipped by an overabundance of estrogen, known as “estrogen dominance”. This can occur from excess estrogen production in the body, HRT, or an intake of estrogen-mimics from the environment. Weight gain can be an effect of estrogen dominance. Our own fat cells produce estrogen, and the more fat cells we have, the more estrogen we create. The more estrogen we create, the more fatty tissue we create. See the cycle? There are ways to reduce exposure to environmental estrogens – like eating organically grown produce or eating hormone-free meat, avoiding plastics with BPA and avoiding body care products that contain phthalates. You can also use certain supplements that contain a broccoli-derived ingredient called Indolplex©, which can change your ratio of good to bad estrogens.
Testosterone Weight gain and weight loss isn’t just a girl’s issue! A loss in testosterone for men equals abdominal fat. As men age, testosterone levels decline and this causes levels of estrogen and insulin to rise. (Oh yes, boys, you too make estrogen!) This happens because aging men convert a lot of their testosterone into estradiol – a type of estrogen; the rest of the testosterone is bound to a protein and not biologically active. These two things lower a man’s free testosterone. The lower a man’s free testosterone levels, the higher the ratio of estrogen and insulin – and voila! A pudgy midsection is born! Men can have their levels of testosterone tested by a healthcare practitioner and there are replacement therapies for that. The supplement I mentioned for estrogen can also have benefits in men by balancing the ratio of testosterone to estrogen.
And a review… Insulin Insulin is a hormone and its main job in the body is to drive glucose into muscle tissue and into fat cells for storage. The problem with insulin lies within the cells’ ability to use it. The decreased ability of some cells to use insulin is called “insulin resistance”. When the cells don’t allow insulin to open the door for glucose uptake, blood sugar levels remain high and the body releases more insulin. This elevated level of insulin makes it difficult for the body to use stored fat as energy. The way to overcome these issues is two-fold. Most importantly is a change in diet. Reduce the amount of sugars and simple carbs (think processed foods) and increase complex carbs (think raw veggies, whole grains, i.e. – fiber). Secondly, make sure you are getting sufficient amounts of minerals such as chromium, which helps the body use insulin.
Cortisol Aahhh…our beloved stress hormone. Remember that cortisol increases appetite and increases blood sugar levels. On top of that, elevated cortisol levels block the use of thyroid hormone by the cells (and testosterone too!). For any weight loss program to be successful, we have to address the stress response. How do we do that? ADAPTOGENS. Rhodiola rosea and Panax ginseng are good adaptogen choices. I hope that I’ve provided you with some usable information. A weight loss plan is personal and unique. There isn’t one diet plan that will work for everyone. Adding just a few supplements to support your unique needs may be all you need to get over that plateau and on your way to a healthy weight.