There are various factors in our lives which contribute to weight gain, weight loss, and weight management. There are hormonal imbalances and different hormones that cause weight gain. Many people look into possible hormonal causes when their diet and exercise routine is healthy and their weight issues are somewhat mysterious. Others look into hormonal causes when they seem to be extremely hungry all the time, as it’s possible their hunger hormones are off balance.
Your diet, exercise routine, and even how you emotionally deal with issues such as stress can all influence the shape and size of your body. Your DNA also plays a significant role in your body composition, your genetic body type, how your body stores energy, and how fast your metabolism is.
Hormones that cause weight gain are one of the most significant yet commonly overlooked elements contributing to your body’s accumulation of fat, and your ability to manage your appetite. Hormones are a kind of chemical signal responsible for a range of functions in the body. Your hormonal health influences your mood, stress level, sleep, growth, reproduction, and even your eating habits.
Our hormones rely on a delicate state of balance to function effectively. An imbalance in hormone levels can cause various health conditions and various symptoms related to weight gain, from increased fat retention to inflammation in the body. Hormones that cause weight gain can be the culprit making it more challenging to lose weight once you’ve begun to retain excess fat.
Hormones That Cause Weight Gain or Influence Weight Management
Various hormones are directly associated with our health and wellness. Some hormones cause weight gain by increasing our appetite, and prompting us to eat more calories than we really need. Other hormones that cause weight gain are hormones that change the way our body stores fat, and the fat accumulation processes within the body.
Some of the most common hormones known for affecting weight gain include:
1. Thyroid Hormones (T3, T4, and Calcitonin)
The thyroid gland is a crucial endocrine gland in the human body. Primarily, it produces the following hormones, thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3), and calcitonin. These hormones work together to ensure all the cells in your body can work normally. The thyroid regulates your sleep cycle, heart rate, brain development, growth, and your metabolism.
In some cases, the thyroid may not produce the right quantities of each hormone, leading to “hypothyroidism”. This is a condition which can cause various processes in your body to slow down, including your metabolism. If your metabolism slows, this makes it harder for your body to process food, which can lead to weight gain. Hypothyroidism can also lead to various other symptoms such as fatigue, and constipation, which may reduce your desire to exercise.
Studies into hypothyroidism and weight gain indicate obese people are more likely to have higher levels of thyroid stimulating hormones and free T3 levels, as well as lower levels of T4. Not only does hypothyroidism make weight gain more likely, but it can also make it harder to lose weight. Changes in T3 levels, and high T3 resistance can lead to lower resting metabolic rates.
2. Hunger Hormones (Leptin and Ghrelin)
We all have hunger hormones responsible for regulating our appetite. Your genetics can influence the performance of these hormones, and you may be able to gain an insight into how they work using a DNA test.
For example, an at-home DNA test from CircleDNA can tell you whether you’re genetically more likely to have low appetite control, due to your hunger hormones and other genetic factors such as your genetic stress response.
Ultimately, the weight regulating and hunger hormones in your body aim to maintain homeostasis in the human body, by managing your intake of energy.
Leptin is the fullness hormone, which tells the hypothalamus in the brain when you no longer need to eat. Unfortunately, studies show people with obesity and various genetic conditions can experience leptin resistance. This stops the fullness message from reaching the brain, causing us to overeat.
Leptin resistance can also get worse the more your body attempts to produce this hormone, which is why people already suffering from obesity often have a hard time regulating their appetite.
Therefore, one of the hormones that cause weight gain is leptin, since an imbalance of this hormone can cause you to keep eating excess calories even when you should be full.
Ghrelin is the opposite of leptin, and the other side of the hunger management coin. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone that tells the brain when you need to eat, your stomach is empty, and you need more energy. The function of the hormone is to increase appetite when you haven’t eaten in a while. Studies show people who are already overweight tend to have low ghrelin levels, but may be more sensitive to its effects.
3. Stress Hormones (Cortisol)
Stress hormones are a natural part of the human body, and stress can even be beneficial in the right circumstances. Cortisol is perhaps the best-known stress hormone, produced by the adrenal glands to stimulate the fight or flight response. During times of emotional or physical stress, increased cortisol produces higher energy levels and heart rates.
The release of cortisol and adrenaline at the same time pushes us to act, this makes these two hormones important during dangerous situations. However, chronically high cortisol levels can prompt a range of health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain.
Some people are also naturally more sensitive to stress, due to their genetics.
‘Stress eating’ is a real problem, it’s something that many of us do. Overeating due to stress could happen partly because of the stress hormone being present, but also due to one’s own ability to emotionally regulate.
Certain factors in your lifestyle can also contribute to higher cortisol levels. For instance, people with chronic stress, poor sleep habits, and a high intake of foods with a higher glycemic intake usually have greater amounts of cortisol in their levels.
The more weight you gain, the more likely you are to produce cortisol, which can lead to a problematic loop of overeating and weight retention.
4. Sex Hormones (Estrogen)
Our sex hormones are the chemicals responsible for managing reproduction and fertility. They can also play a role in the performance of the skeletal, immune, and vascular systems. Naturally, throughout our lives, the levels of sex hormones in our bodies change. For instance, women have different levels of hormones such as estrogen during pregnancy and menopause.
Higher levels of estrogen are commonly found in people with obesity, and can even be associated with an increased risk of other chronic conditions such as cancer. On the other hand, low levels of estrogen can also impact body weight and the retention of body fat.
People with lower levels of estrogen are more likely to accumulate fat around the middle of the body, such as in the stomach. Stubborn belly fat can be more difficult to lose, and can lead to various conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
The sex hormone testosterone, usually associated with men, can also influence weight management. Testosterone is helpful for burning fat and strengthening muscles and bones. Lower testosterone levels can lead to increases in stress and inflammation, as well as fat accumulation.
5. Storage Hormones (Insulin)
Insulin is one of the best-known “storage hormones” in the body, produced by the pancreas. In most people, this hormone helps with the storage of glucose, a simple sugar we use for energy in various organs throughout the body. Your pancreas naturally secretes small amounts of insulin throughout the day, followed by larger amounts after meals.
Unfortunately, many people suffer from insulin resistance, which means the body and its cells stop responding to insulin correctly. This condition leads to higher blood sugar, as your insulin is no longer capable of moving glucose into the cells for proper storage.
In many cases, people with insulin resistance produce more insulin in an attempt to assist with glucose absorption, which can increase resistance. Insulin resistance is often linked to obesity, as well as the development of diabetes and heart disease.
In some cases, it’s possible for people to reduce insulin sensitivity by adjusting their lifestyle and eating habits. People who naturally struggle to produce and use insulin correctly may need medication to manage their condition.
Which Hormones Can Make it Harder to Lose Weight?
Hormones don’t just have an impact on your likelihood of gaining weight. A hormonal imbalance can also make it more difficult to lose weight once you’ve gained it. All of the hormones related to weight management above can make it tougher to lose weight when they’re imbalanced. There are also other hormones which can contribute to making weight loss more difficult, such as:
- Glucagon-like Peptide 1: Otherwise known as GLP-1, this hormone is produced naturally in the gut when you consume nutrients. The substance is responsible for keeping blood sugar levels stable, and making you feel full. However, people who are overweight can struggle to recognize GLP-1 signals, which leads to over-eating.
- Neuropeptide Y: NPY is produced by the nervous system and brain to help stimulate appetite and reduce energy expenditure after fasting. People who are overweight can experience higher levels of this substance, as it’s often stored in the fat cells. High levels of NPY can lead to increased appetite, and inflammation.
- Cholecystokinin: CCK is another hormone associated with regulating feelings of fullness. It helps with protein synthesis, digestion, energy production and the development of leptin. Obese individuals generally have reduced sensitivity to this hormone, which can lead to chronic overeating.
- Peptide YY: A hormone created in the gut, PYY decreases appetite, but is usually lower in people who are already overweight. Sufficient levels of this substance are commonly believed to be effective in reducing food intake.
- Melatonin: The hormone produced in the pineal gland for sleep regulation, melatonin assists with releasing substances which help the body to heal and grow. If your circadian rhythm is interrupted due to poor sleep, your body can create higher levels of cortisol, and reduced melatonin, which can trigger weight gain and inflammation.
Solutions for Imbalances of Hormones That Cause Weight Gain
Some people are naturally more predisposed to the side effects of hormonal imbalances, which is why it’s so important to understand your genes and the role they play in your body composition.
However, there are certain lifestyle changes you can implement which can sometimes assist in getting your hormones back on track.
If you believe you might have a hormonal imbalance that’s causing your symptoms, the best strategy is to seek out assistance and guidance from a medical professional. They can often advise you on what kind of diet and exercise routine to follow, and whether medication is necessary to help rebalance your hormones.
The doctor will do a blood test to check your hormone levels, and look for any imbalances. Sometimes, medication is required to rebalance your hormones, and other times, simple lifestyle changes can help.
Below are some examples of lifestyle changes and some of the best ways to regain control of the hormones that cause weight gain:
- Improving your sleep hygiene: Chronic sleep issues have a direct impact on the hormones produced by your body. When you don’t sleep well, you’re more likely to have higher levels of cortisol in your system. Lack of sleep is also commonly linked with insulin resistance, and a greater risk of obesity. It might not be easy, but try to get in the habit of going to bed at the same time every night. Implement a bedtime routine and good sleep hygiene. Try to improve your sleep habits, and that could go a long way.
- Exercise more regularly: Exercising also has an impact on balancing your hormones. Regular exercise can contribute to higher insulin sensitivity. High insulin sensitivity allows your cells to use blood glucose more effectively, which helps reduce blood sugar. Exercise can also lead to increased leptin, and remember that leptin is important because it’s a hormone that is your natural appetite suppressant as it helps control your appetite. Regular exercise also leads to reduced cortisol levels, which reduces the ‘stress eating’ binges. It also helps to maintain your weight, by helping you to burn off the excess energy (calories) stored in the body.
- Eat a healthier diet: Some of the hormone imbalances we suffer from are a direct result of our poor diet. The poor choices many of us make when it comes to eating can impact us quite negatively. For instance, diets high in processed or packaged foods and red meat can increase estrogen levels. A Mediterranean diet or a Nordic diet can help to reduce insulin levels, while balanced diets assist with keeping cortisol levels in check.
- Try supplements: Certain supplements can assist in getting your hormone levels back to the right balance. Omega-3 fatty acids may help to improve insulin sensitivity in people with metabolic conditions.
- Work on stress management: High levels of stress contribute to an increase in cortisol, and can also cause extreme hunger and overeating. Consider adding various methods of stress management to your life, such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, deep tissue massage, and other self-care practices. You could also speak to a doctor about talk therapy such as counselling.
Your Hormones Influence Your Weight
Ultimately, hormones have a direct impact on virtually every aspect of how our bodies function. They control when we feel hungry or full, how often we feel hungry, and whether we’re more likely to overeat. They can also have an impact on how easy it is for us to lose the weight we gain.
Even if your hormonal imbalances are partially to blame for your weight problem, for example by having too much of the hunger hormone, you can still make changes to change the way you eat. Control your portion size and prevent excessive eating by eating at a much slower pace. Achieve this by chewing each bite of food several times, and pausing for a sip of water before taking your next bite. This way, you’ll get full faster, and you’ll be less likely to overeat.
Checking your hormone levels is an excellent way to make sure you’re on the right track to a good weight maintenance strategy.
- NCBI: Hypothyroidism and obesity: An intriguing link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4911848/
- NCBI: Leptin, Obesity, and Leptin Resistance: Where Are We 25 Years Later?:
- NCBI: Ghrelin and Obesity: Identifying Gaps and Dispelling Myths. A Reappraisal: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29102924/
- NCBI: Weight Gain in Women at Midlife: A Concise Review of the Pathophysiology and Strategies for Management: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28982486/
- NCBI: Insulin resistance: Review of the underlying molecular mechanisms: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30317615/