Could hormone imbalances be affecting your best efforts to burn fat? Hormones working in harmony is important for fat loss however things like stress, medications, food, environmental toxins (e.g. plastic water bottles, makeup) and sleep can wreak havoc on your hormones.
There are over 50 hormones produced in the body but for the sake of brevity, let’s look at the 7 hormones that are primary drivers of a healthy metabolism and how to balance them naturally.
WHICH HORMONES AFFECT METABOLISM?
These 7 hormones play a starring role in fat loss and metabolism:
Estrogen is the master switch for metabolism, mood and libido, responsible for feelings of happiness, cognitive health, bone health, the function of the cardiovascular system, and other essential bodily processes. Both estrogen dominance and deficiency can affect metabolic health. One form of estrogen called estradiol helps to regulate metabolism and body weight. Estradiol decreases at menopause and lower levels of estradiol may lead to weight gain.
Estrogen makes the female metabolism more insulin-sensitive and less stress-reactive, however estrogen dominance can result in unwanted fat storage on the hips, butt and thighs. Regular bowel movements and healthy gut bacteria will help to keep this hormone in check by eliminating estrogen. (Heads up: constipation leads to estrogen dominance!) Incorporate chia, flax, berries, lentils, legumes and vegetables to increase fiber intake to at least 25 g a day.
Progesterone is a calming hormone that is important for hair growth, brain health and growing babies and helps to stimulate your thyroid. Progesterone has important effects on carbohydrate, lipid and protein metabolism.
Progesterone’s primary role in your weight is to work in tandem with estrogen and cortisol to help your body maintain a healthy weight. An estrogen deficiency can result in too much progesterone and too much progesterone impairs your body’s blood sugar regulation (through its interaction with insulin) and leads to weight gain. On the flip side, cortisol can steal progesterone - and low progesterone encourages weight gain, as progesterone supports the thyroid and a healthy metabolism. Nutrients from whole foods such as magnesium, zinc and vitamins E, C and your B’s are important for maintaining progesterone levels.
Thyroid hormones regulate the rate at which your body uses calories (energy) and helps regulate your metabolism. Thyroid hormones can decrease or increase your basal metabolic rate - too much or too little has a significant impact on calories burned at rest.
Stress has a significant impact on thyroid hormones - effectively managing it is key to maintaining healthy thyroid hormone levels. Long-term calorie restriction, or chronic dieting, can decrease your metabolism, increase cortisol levels in the body, and decrease thyroid activity. Other lifestyle factors that show a clear association with thyroid hormones are smoking, body mass index (BMI) and iodine in the diet.
A full thyroid panel, including antibodies, can be a good first step to determining if you have a sluggish or overactive thyroid.
Testosterone is often considered to be a male hormone but for men and women, this hormone keeps you lean with better body composition and it is essential for sex drive. Testerone helps to create muscle and helps to burn fat and maintain bone density.
A low level of testosterone, especially in older women, may be a limiting factor in strength development. Resistance training is a primary way to naturally increase testosterone for weight loss in men, but women see less increase in testosterone - in fact, HIIT may decrease testosterone. Weight loss itself may help to increase natural production of this hormone in women.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) also helps to keep you lean and slows the aging process. It amplifies the effects of estrogen and testosterone in building lean muscle.
HGH is especially receptive to fasting, high intensity exercise and optimal sleep. Although production decreases with age, women typically produce HGH within the first 10 minutes of a high-intensity workout and continue to produce it for the following 24-hr.
Insulin is a master hormone that helps to manage blood sugar and to build muscle, however it can also promote fat storage if produced in excess. It’s important to note that birth control pills interfere with insulin which is why we often experience weight gain while taking oral contraceptives.
It’s important to not only minimize the amount of insulin produced but to improve the body’s response to insulin. Time-restricted feeding, or intermittent fasting, can be especially helpful in reducing the amount of insulin produced over the period of 24 hours and increasing insulin sensitivity.
Eating balanced meals with healthy fats, protein and carbs will also reduce the amount of insulin produced. Timing carb ingestion around workouts is also helpful for building muscle and directing glucose to the cells, reducing the amount of insulin needed.
Leptin promotes satiety and modulates energy balance and weight. Leptin is often referred to as the “satiety hormone” or the “starvation hormone.” Fat cells actually produce leptin to help suppress appetite, however leptin resistance can make fat loss difficult.
Boosting leptin through intermittent fasting and carb cycling can help to increase sensitivity to the hormone. Foods that contain healthy fats, carbs and protein are generally more satisfying and are ideal for improving leptin sensitivity.
Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone”. It helps control how your body uses fats, proteins and carbohydrates for energy, and it’s been known to increase appetite. Cortisol also counterbalances insulin, so excess cortisol can lead to insulin resistance (and increased insulin output).
Now cortisol is not a bad hormone - in fact, it’s what gives us our “get up and go” in the morning. The key is to produce elevated levels of cortisol in the morning hours and support a natural decline in cortisol in the evening. Using the circadian rhythm as a guide for sleep will help to manage cortisol levels, as will practicing relaxation techniques throughout the day.
Because cortisol steals progesterone, supportive nutrients like magnesium and vitamin C will help with stress, sleep, and maintaining a healthy cortisol - progesterone balance. Avoiding caffeine on an empty stomach in the morning can also decrease cortisol levels.
RESET HORMONES FOR WEIGHT LOSS
When it comes to hormone balance for weight loss, the goal is to support the body’s natural production of these hormones by reducing inflammation, prioritizing activity AND rest, and feeding it essential nutrients necessary to produce the hormones.
Believe me when I say that your body wants to be in balance - you just have to put it under the right conditions. But where do you start?
We can break this down into 5 tips hormone balance and support:
1. Stress management - the body is extremely sensitive to stress and this is often a primary factor in imbalance. Eat more fiber-rich carbs during stress, increase gentle movement like yoga and restorative walks, emphasize strength training over high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and plan rest days if you’re a highly active person. And, don’t shoot the messenger, but avoid drinking coffee in a fasted state!
2. Eat fiber - every day! Eating a rainbow of foods is ideal, especially cruciferous vegetables which include sulfur, which helps to filter out estrogen metabolites and support a healthy balance between estrogen and progesterone. Fruits and vegetables are also rich in vitamin C, an important nutrient for reducing stress and helping hormone development. Other sources of fiber include nutrient-dense nuts, seeds, lentils and legumes.
3. Avoid alcohol. Not only does alcohol cause inflammation, it also increases estrogen levels and causes dysregulation of our hunger hormones. There are very few benefits to drinking alcohol when the goal is weight loss, not to mention the increased risk of breast cancer associated with alcohol consumption.
4. Prioritize protein. Protein is a building block of hormones and helps to maintain blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity. Protein should be the main focus of every meal to help keep you full and satisfied, not to mention it takes more energy (i.e. calories) to digest protein.
5. Reduce inflammation. Doing all of the above will quickly help to reduce inflammation. Avoiding processed foods with sugar, including processed meats, are also important when it comes to reducing inflammation. And if you’re doing ALL the things including a whole foods based diet and you’re still experiencing inflammation, consider doing food sensitivity testing and an elimination diet to identify dietary sources of inflammation. I use Mediator Release Testing (MRT) in my practice with great results.
Your body wants to be in balance - you just have to put it under the right conditions.
Unfortunately, hormone levels can be tricky to test as some often fluctuate depending on the day, if not the hour. Many doctors don’t offer routine hormone testing because of this. One comprehensive and reliable set of hormone tests available is DUTCH testing, which can measure adrenal and sex hormones that are essential to a healthy metabolism and other functions.
If testing is not an option, focus creating an optimal foundation for healthy hormones by doing all of the above and BE PATIENT. Often it takes time to correct imbalances - which means sticking with those healthy habits!
Want to learn more? Contact me to set up a strategy call to discuss your goals!
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