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Hormones : Havoc or Harmony in Weight Management?
In my final blog on weight loss, I’m going to discuss the much talked-about subject of hormones and their effect on weight management.
Hormones – So What Are They?
Hormones are chemical messengers released by cells in one part of the body which travel in the bloodstream and communicate information to cells in other parts of the body. The messages they transmit affect numerous biochemical processes including mood, metabolism, appetite, fullness, and food cravings to name but a few.
Hormones : A Weighty Issue
With an escalating obesity epidemic, unsurprisingly there’s been lots of research carried out on obese individuals which has revealed that their hormone levels differ to those of their non-obese counterparts. These differences do not appear to be coincidental and research into the variations identifies hormonal changes which directly affect appetite control, body fat distribution, and stimulation of body fat accumulation.
Hormones and Weight Disorders : The Main Players
The hormone leptin is manufactured in fat cells and regulates appetite by sending signals to the brain to reduce the desire to eat when sufficient food has been consumed to fulfil energy requirements. Since leptin is produced by fat cells, the more fat cells you have, the more leptin is produced. And it appears that with increasing levels of leptin in circulation, our sensitivity to its effect decreases until we eventually enter into a leptin resistant state where we become desensitised to its appetite-reducing influence.
The hormone insulin oversees the digestion of carbohydrates by facilitating the entry of glucose (the end product of carbohydrate breakdown) into our body cells where it is used to manufacture energy. Our typical Western diet, dominated by lots of “white” carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, pasta, cakes, crisps and biscuits) demands high levels of insulin, which, over time, can lead to a state of insulin resistance, similar to that of leptin, when the body cells become tired of insulin’s constant demands and start to ignore them by no longer allowing entry of glucose into the body cells. This state of insulin resistance is the predetermining factor in Diabetes Type II which is itself associated with weight gain, particularly in the abdominal area.
Our thyroid hormone exerts a major influence on our metabolic rate, i.e. the speed at which we convert the food (calories) we consume into energy. In simple terms, an over-active thyroid (hyperthyroidism) speeds up our metabolic rate and tends to cause weight loss, and an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) slows down metabolism and tends to cause weight gain. Ensuring the nutritional nourishment and health of our thyroid gland is therefore vital for healthy weight management.
In today’s stress-driven society, our stress hormone cortisol is in constant demand. Individuals with weight disorders tend to exhibit impaired cortisol function (initially over-activity, and then, after a long period of over-activity, reduced output due to exhaustion of the manufacturing site) . Aberrancies in cortisol secretion can engender thyroid hormone disruption, fat deposition in the abdominal area and an increased appetite for sugary foods. Therefore a key strategy in nutritional weight management is addressing irregularities in cortisol activity.
Male (androgens) and female (oestrogens) sex hormones influence where we lay down fat in the body. As our levels of hormones change over time, so does our distribution of body fat. Pre-menopausal women, for example, tend to lay down fat on their buttocks and thighs due to the influence of oestrogen, but as oestrogen supply dissipates in the menopause, fat accumulation tends to occur in the abdominal area.
Inflammation and Hormones
Fat cells are very alive and active, producing inflammatory hormone-like chemicals which generate low-grade chronic inflammation throughout the body of obese individuals. These inflammatory chemicals exert a disruptive effect on metabolic processes, and are increasingly being seen as a causative factor in insulin resistance and escalating weight gain.
And so to conclude…
Weight loss is not a simple fact of eating less and exercising more. The body is a complex organism and balance and harmony of its internal environment is required to produce the right setting to allow weight loss to ensue. Optimal nutrition is key to the establishment of this harmonious state.
We are, to coin a phrase, very much what we eat, and paying attention to what we put in our mouths really does impact not only on our weight status, but also on our long-term health outcomes.
Juliet Schaffer from Evolve Nutrition is a fully qualified and accredited Nutritional Therapist with a degree in Nutritional Medicine. If you are seeking nutritional advice regarding a specific health concern, or would like guidance for achieving and maintaining a health-promoting diet, take the option of a free 20 minute telephone consultation to see how professional nutritional advice can benefit you. Check out Evolve Nutrition’s website at www.evolve-nutrition.co.uk for contact details or phone 01279 726640 to book a free initial telephone consultation.
Juliet Schaffer, Nutritionist, Evolve Nutrition