Your weight is largely controlled by hormones. Research shows that hormones influence your appetite and how much fat you store.
Here are 9 ways to “fix” the hormones that control your weight.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the beta cells of your pancreas. It’s secreted in small amounts throughout the day and in larger amounts after meals. Insulin allows your cells to take in blood sugar for energy or storage, depending on what is needed at the time.
Insulin is also the main fat storage hormone in the body. It tells fat cells to store fat, and prevents stored fat from being broken down. When cells are insulin resistant (very common), both blood sugar and insulin levels go up significantly.
Chronically elevated insulin levels (termed hyperinsulinemia) can lead to many health problems, including obesity and metabolic syndrome
Overeating — especially sugar, refined carbohydrates, and fast food — drives insulin resistance and increases insulin levels
Here are some tips to normalize insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity:
- Avoid or minimize sugar: High amounts of fructose and sucrose promote insulin resistance and raise insulin levels
- Reduce carbohydrates: A low-carb diet can cause an immediate drop in insulin levels.
- Fill up on protein: Protein actually raises insulin in the short-term. However, it should lead to long-term reductions in insulin resistance by helping you lose belly fat
- Include plenty of healthy fats: Omega-3 fats found in fatty fish can help lower fasting insulin levels
- Exercise regularly: Overweight women who walked briskly or jogged had an improvement in insulin sensitivity after 14 weeks in one study
- Get enough magnesium: Insulin resistant people are often low in magnesium, andmagnesium supplements can improve insulin sensitivity.
- Drink green tea: Green tea may lower blood sugar and insulin levels.
Bottom Line: Insulin is the main fat storage hormone in the body. Reducing sugar intake, cutting carbs and exercise are the best ways to lower insulin levels.
Leptin is produced by your fat cells. It’s considered a “satiety hormone” that reduces appetite and makes you feel full. As a signaling hormone, its role is to communicate with the hypothalamus, the portion of your brain that regulates appetite and food intake.
Leptin tells the brain that there’s enough fat in storage and no more is needed, which helps prevent overeating.
People who are overweight or obese usually have very high levels of leptin in their blood. In fact, one study found that leptin levels in obese people were 4 times higher than in people of normal weight.
If leptin reduces appetite, then obese people with high levels of leptin should start eating less and lose weight.
Unfortunately, in obesity the leptin system doesn’t work as it should. This is referred to asleptin resistance.
When leptin signaling is impaired, the message to stop eating doesn’t get through to the brain, so it doesn’t realize you have enough energy stored
In essence, your brain thinks it is starving, so you’re driven to eat.
Leptin levels are also reduced when you lose weight, which is one of the main reasons it is so hard to maintain weight loss in the long-term. The brain thinks you are starving, and pushes you to eat more in order to produce more leptin.
Two potential causes of leptin resistance are chronically elevated insulin levels and inflammation in the hypothalamus.
Here are a few suggestions for improving leptin sensitivity:
- Avoid inflammatory foods: Limit foods that cause inflammation, especially sugary drinks and trans fats.
- Eat certain foods: Eat more anti-inflammatory foods, such as fatty fish.
- Exercise regularly: Moderate activity can improve leptin sensitivity.
- Get enough sleep: Studies have shown that insufficient sleep leads to a drop in leptin levels and increased appetite.
- Supplements: In one study, women on a weight-loss diet who took alpha-lipoic acid and fish oil lost more weight and had a smaller decrease in leptin than those in a control group.
Bottom Line: People with obesity tend to be resistant to the effects of leptin. Consuming anti-inflammatory foods, exercising and getting enough sleep may improve leptin sensitivity.
Ghrelin is known as a “hunger hormone.”
When your stomach is empty, it releases ghrelin, which sends a message to the hypothalamus telling you to eat.
Normally, ghrelin levels are highest before eating and lowest about an hour after you’ve had a meal.
However, in overweight and obese people, fasting ghrelin levels are often lower than in people of normal weight.
Studies have also shown that after obese people eat a meal, ghrelin only decreases slightly. Because of this, the hypothalamus doesn’t receive as strong of a signal to stop eating, which can lead to overeating.
Here are a few tips to reduce ghrelin levels:
- Sugar: Avoid high-fructose corn syrup and sugar-sweetened drinks, which can impair ghrelin response after meals.
- Protein: Eating protein at every meal, especially breakfast, can reduce ghrelin levels and promote satiety.
Bottom Line: Eating plenty of protein and avoiding foods and beverages high in sugar can help reduce ghrelin levels.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands.
It’s known as a “stress hormone” because it’s released when your body senses stress.
Like other hormones, it’s vital to survival. However, chronically elevated levels of cortisol can lead to overeating and weight gain.
It appears that women who carry excess weight around the middle respond to stress with a greater increase in cortisol.
In one study, women who consumed a low-calorie diet had higher cortisol levels and reported feeling more stressed than women who ate a normal diet.
These strategies can reduce cortisol levels:
- Balanced diet: Follow a balanced, real food-based diet. Don’t cut calories to extremely low levels.
- Meditate: Practicing meditation can significantly reduce cortisol production.
- Listen to music:. Researchers report that when soothing music is played during medical procedures, cortisol doesn’t rise as much.
- Sleep more: One study found that when pilots lost 15 hours of sleep over the course of a week, their cortisol levels increased by 50-80%.
Bottom Line: High cortisol levels can increase food intake and promote weight gain. Eating a balanced diet, managing stress and sleeping more can help normalize cortisol production.
Estrogen is the most important female sex hormone.
It is produced by ovaries and other cells throughout a woman’s life, and is responsible for breast growth and other changes at puberty.
Both very high and low levels of estrogen can lead to weight gain. This depends on age, action of other hormones, and overall state of health.
During the reproductive years, estrogen allows women to store fat to ensure enough energy is available for pregnancy.
Obese women tend to have higher estrogen levels than normal weight women, and some researchers believe this is due to environmental influences.
During menopause, when estrogen levels drop because less is produced in the ovaries, the site for fat storage shifts from the hips and thighs to visceral fat in the abdomen. This promotes insulin resistance and increases disease risk.
These nutrition and lifestyle strategies can help manage estrogen:
- Fiber: Eat plenty of fiber if you want to reduce estrogen levels.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Eating cruciferous vegetables may have beneficial effects on estrogen.
- Flax seeds: Although the phytoestrogens in them are controversial, flax seeds appear to have beneficial effects on estrogen in most women.
- Exercise: Physical activity can help normalize estrogen levels in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women.
Bottom Line: When estrogen levels are too high or low, weight gain may occur. This depends on age and other hormonal factors.
6. Neuropeptide Y (NPY)
Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a hormone produced by cells in the brain and nervous system.
It stimulates appetite, particularly for carbohydrates, and is highest during periods of fasting or food deprivation.
Levels of neuropeptide Y are elevated during times of stress, which can lead to overeating and abdominal fat gain.
Recommendations for lowering NPY:
- Protein: A low-protein diet has been shown to increase release of NPY, which leads to hunger, increased food intake and weight gain.
- Don’t fast for too long: Animal studies have demonstrated that very long fasts, such as over 24 hours, can dramatically increase NPY levels.
- Soluble fiber: Eating plenty of soluble prebiotic fiber to feed the friendly bacteria in the gut may reduce NPY levels.