5 hormones that cause weight gain

 

Did you know that regulating hormones can help control weight gain, even without reducing the intake of food? Yes, really! Angela Tufvesson finds out more.

Melatonin

What is it?

The hormone of darkness, melatonin maintains the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is an internal 24-hour clock that regulates when we fall asleep and wake up. The body produces melatonin when it is dark to encourage rest.

Is it out of whack?

Bright light in the evening or not enough light during the day can disrupt melatonin levels, which can result in weight gain. This is a common symptom of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a winter ailment where too much melatonin is produced.

Quick fix: Regulating melatonin levels can help control weight gain, even without reducing the intake of food. Researchers from the University of Granada in Spain believe melatonin might help prevent heart disease associated with obesity, increase HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. Small quantities of melatonin can be found in goji berries, almonds, sunflower seeds, cardamom, fennel, coriander and cherries. Melatonin also has strong antioxidant effects and can be taken in supplement form. If you prefer au naturale, be sure to sleep in a pitch-black room.


Insulin can cause weight gain - IMAGE - Women's Health & Fitness

Insulin

What is it?

Insulin is secreted by the pancreas and used to digest the carbohydrates in food. The pancreas secretes insulin in response to carbohydrates being consumed. It then transports glucose – a simple sugar made from the digested carbohydrates – from the food to the muscles to be used for energy.

Is it out of whack?

If you have trouble losing weight, despite eating well and training hard, you may have a condition called insulin resistance, says Buntic. “In insulin resistance, the hormone insulin does not function as it should. The muscle cells build up a resistance to insulin, so the body produces more and more in an attempt to maintain the transport of glucose to the cells for energy.

“As insulin works to prevent fat being burnt to preserve muscle and fat mass, high levels of insulin can result in a situation where fat is stored rather than burnt, leading to difficulty in losing and maintaining weight.” If left unmanaged, this condition is likely to result in type 2 diabetes.

Quick fix: Insulin resistance can be managed with a low-GI eating plan and exercise including cardio and resistance training.


Lack os sleep can cause your appetite to increase- IMAGE - Women's Health & Fitness

Ghrelin and leptin

What is it?

Ghrelin and leptin are a double act that together regulate appetite. Leptin is secreted by fatty tissue and regulates energy by sending a signal to the brain that you are full, while ghrelin, a shorter-acting hormone secreted by the gut, stimulates appetite.

Is it out of whack?

Research suggests that when you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels dive, so you don’t feel full after a meal, and ghrelin levels rise, which overstimulates your appetite. A study published in the journal Sleep Medicine found that leptin levels decreased by 18 per cent and ghrelin levels increased by 28 per cent when sleep was restricted to four hours per night over two nights. Essentially, when we don’t get enough sleep, we feel hungry, even though we’ve eaten enough.

Quick fix: Keep your ghrelin and leptin levels healthy with good sleep hygiene. Go to bed at roughly the same time each night and get the requisite seven to eight hours of shut-eye.


Stress hormones cortisol can cause weight gain - IMAGE - Women's Health & Fitness

Cortisol

What is it?

When you’re in danger or on high alert – before a big presentation or hot date – the body releases stress hormone cortisol into the bloodstream. It feeds your brain extra oxygen and releases energy from your fat and glucose stores to help you avert the threat or make a good impression on that date.

Is it out of whack?

Frequent, chronic stress means more cortisol is released into the bloodstream than the body can use. This puts you at increased risk of heart disease, sleep disturbances, depression and obesity.

“If cortisol is elevated for long periods of time, it can promote weight gain,” says dietitian Angela Buntic. “Stress hormones trigger the fight or flight response, making the body’s fuel sources, such as glucose, ready and available for use. However, if you don’t actually use this energy for a physical response, the body stores the released energy as fat, usually around the abdomen, ready for the next threat.”

Quick fix: Take steps to manage the stress in your life, says Sally Symonds, author of 50 Steps To Lose 50kg…and Keep It Off. Eat a healthy diet of fresh fruit and veg, lean meat and wholegrains; practise relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga; enjoy regular exercise; and spend time relaxing with friends away from your stressors.


Oestrogen can cause weight gain - IMAGE - Women's Health & Fitness

Oestrogen

What is it?

The constant see-sawing of oestrogen and progesterone production keeps the reproductive system running. Oestrogen plays an important role in the menstrual cycle (high levels induce PMS) and pregnancy. It also helps maintain strong bones and may help prevent heart disease.

Is it out of whack?

Studies suggest oestrogen fluctuations across the female lifespan may help explain our higher prevalence of obesity compared to men. Low oestrogen is a significant contributor to weight gain in our older years, particularly approaching menopause. In younger women, spiked oestrogen levels can lead to irritability, migraines, depression and a raft of reproductive disorders.

“Oestrogen is the culprit for many of our problems, from breast cancer to endometriosis, PMS and cancer of the uterus,” says GP Dr Maura McGill. “Progesterone can ameliorate the effects of oestrogen gone wild, but if we are chronically short of one hormone, we need to reintroduce the missing hormone in the most natural way possible.”

Quick fix: Avoid oestrogen-induced weight gain in your premenopausal years by eating a wholefood diet and limiting your intake of processed foods. Dr McGill recommends steering clear of high oestrogen foods like chicken and soy products at PMS time.

NEXT: 20 ways to stay diet strong>>

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