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Hormonal Imbalances and Their Impact on Obesity and Metabolism

Updated: Jul 8


 

When it comes to weight management, many factors come into play and hormones are among the most crucial. Insulin, cortisol, and thyroid hormones significantly impact how our bodies store and use fat and imbalances can lead to weight gain and obesity. Understanding how these hormones work and how to address any imbalances can be key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.


medical personnel holding up pieces of paper saying hormone balance

The Role of Insulin

Insulin and Weight Gain

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar levels. Its primary function is to help cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream to be used for energy or stored as fat (Diabetes.co.uk, 2022). When insulin levels are consistently high, the body becomes less sensitive to it. This condition, known as insulin resistance, leads to higher blood sugar levels, prompting the body to produce even more insulin (Cleveland Clinic, n.d).


Insulin Resistance and Obesity

Insulin resistance is closely linked to weight gain and obesity. High levels encourage fat storage, especially around the abdominal area, and make it difficult for the body to break this down for energy. This creates a vicious cycle where weight gain exacerbates insulin resistance and insulin resistance promotes further weight gain (Ahmed et al., 2021).


Managing Insulin Levels

To manage insulin levels and reduce insulin resistance:

  • Adopt a Low-Carb Diet: Reducing the intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars can help lower insulin levels (Boden et al., 2005).

  • Increase Physical Activity: Regular exercise improves insulin sensitivity (Colberg, 2008).

  • Monitor Glycemic Load: Focus on foods with a low glycemic index to prevent spikes in blood sugar (Lazarim et al., 2009).

  • Intermittent Fasting: Recent research has found that different types of intermittent fasting can significantly help reduce insulin levels (Albosta & Bakke, 2021; Nowosad & Sujka, 2021). However, please ensure you consult with your GP or physician to work out a plan that will be best for you.



The Impact of Cortisol

Cortisol and Stress

Cortisol, often called the "stress hormone," is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It plays a role in various bodily functions, including metabolism and the immune response. In short-term stress situations, cortisol helps provide the energy needed to handle the stressor. However, chronic stress leads to consistently high levels of cortisol, which can negatively impact health (Thau et al., 2019).


Cortisol and Weight Gain

Elevated cortisol levels can lead to weight gain in several ways:

  • Increased Appetite: High cortisol levels stimulate appetite, particularly for high-calorie, sugary and fatty foods (Adam & Epel, 2007).

  • Fat Storage: Cortisol promotes the storage of fat, especially visceral fat, which is stored around internal organs and is associated with a higher risk of metabolic disorders (Anagnostis et al., 2009).


Reducing Cortisol Levels

To manage cortisol levels and reduce stress-related weight gain:

  • Practice Stress Management: Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises can help lower cortisol levels (Rogerson et al., 2023).

  • Maintain a Healthy Sleep Schedule: Poor sleep can increase cortisol production, so aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night (Kim et al., 2015).

  • Engage in Regular Physical Activity: Exercise can help reduce stress and lower cortisol levels (De Nys et al., 2022).



Thyroid Hormones and Metabolism

The Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate metabolism, including thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones control how your body uses energy and are crucial for maintaining a healthy metabolic rate (Mullur & Brent, 2014).


Hypothyroidism and Weight Gain

Hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones, slows down metabolism and leads to weight gain. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, cold intolerance, and dry skin, alongside weight gain (NHS, n.d.).


Managing Thyroid Function

To manage thyroid hormone levels and support a healthy metabolism:

  • Medication: Synthetic thyroid hormone replacement is commonly prescribed to treat hypothyroidism (NHS, n.d.).

  • Diet: Ensure adequate intake of iodine, selenium, and zinc, which are important for thyroid function (Triggiani, et al., 2009; Mahmoodianfard et al., 2015).

  • Regular Monitoring: Regular check-ups with a healthcare provider can help monitor thyroid function and adjust treatment as needed.



Sign saying matabolism surrounded by pills and medical equipment


 


Conclusion

Hormonal imbalances can significantly impact weight and metabolism, but understanding the roles of insulin, cortisol, and thyroid hormones can help you take control of your health. 

Managing diet, reducing stress, and ensuring proper treatment for hormonal conditions are key steps in maintaining a healthy weight.


The above is not a summation of all information and treatments, however, if you suspect a hormonal imbalance is affecting your weight, consult with a healthcare provider to develop a personalised treatment plan. Taking proactive steps can help restore balance and improve your overall well-being.



References

Adam, T. C., & Epel, E. S. (2007). Stress, eating and the reward system. Physiology & behavior, 91(4), 449-458.


Ahmed, B., Sultana, R., & Greene, M. W. (2021). Adipose tissue and insulin resistance in obese. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 137, 111315.


Albosta, M., & Bakke, J. (2021). Intermittent fasting: is there a role in the treatment of diabetes? A review of the literature and guide for primary care physicians. Clinical diabetes and endocrinology, 7, 1-12.


Anagnostis, P., Athyros, V. G., Tziomalos, K., Karagiannis, A., & Mikhailidis, D. P. (2009). The pathogenetic role of cortisol in the metabolic syndrome: a hypothesis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 94(8), 2692-2701.


Boden, G., Sargrad, K., Homko, C., Mozzoli, M., & Stein, T. P. (2005). Effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite, blood glucose levels, and insulin resistance in obese patients with type 2 diabetes. Annals of internal medicine, 142(6), 403-411.


Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Insulin Resistance. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from 

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22206-insulin-resistance


Colberg, S. R. (2008). Enhancing insulin action with physical activity to prevent and control diabetes. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 12(2), 16-22.


De Nys, L., Anderson, K., Ofosu, E. F., Ryde, G. C., Connelly, J., & Whittaker, A. C. (2022). The effects of physical activity on cortisol and sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 143, 105843.


Diabetes.co.uk. (n.d.). Insulin. Retrieved June 28, 2024, from https://www.diabetes.co.uk/body/insulin.html


Kim, T. W., Jeong, J. H., & Hong, S. C. (2015). The impact of sleep and circadian disturbance on hormones and metabolism. International journal of endocrinology, 2015(1), 591729.


Lazarim, F. L., Stancanelli, M., Brenzikofer, R., & de Macedo, D. V. (2009). Understanding the glycemic index and glycemic load and their practical applications. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 37(5), 296-300.


Mahmoodianfard, S., Vafa, M., Golgiri, F., Khoshniat, M., Gohari, M., Solati, Z., & Djalali, M. (2015). Effects of zinc and selenium supplementation on thyroid function in overweight and obese hypothyroid female patients: a randomized double-blind controlled trial. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 34(5), 391-399.


Mullur, R., Liu, Y. Y., & Brent, G. A. (2014). Thyroid hormone regulation of metabolism. Physiological reviews.


NHS. (n.d.). Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Retrieved June 28, 2024, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/underactive-thyroid-hypothyroidism/


Nowosad, K., & Sujka, M. (2021). Effect of various types of intermittent fasting (IF) on weight loss and improvement of diabetic parameters in human. Current nutrition reports, 10, 146-154.


Rogerson, O., Wilding, S., Prudenzi, A., & O’Connor, D. B. (2023). Effectiveness of stress management interventions to change cortisol levels: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 106415.


Thau, L., Gandhi, J., & Sharma, S. (2019). Physiology, cortisol.


Triggiani, V., Tafaro, E., Giagulli, V. A., Sabbà, C., Resta, F., Licchelli, B., & Guastamacchia, E. (2009). Role of iodine, selenium and other micronutrients in thyroid function and disorders. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-Immune, Endocrine & Metabolic Disorders), 9(3), 277-294.




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