Hormone Effects on Weight Loss

Once upon a time, people who became overweight did not get much sympathy. To use an old-fashioned phrase, “digging your grave with your knife and fork”, weight gain was your own fault and attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle.

While this is sometimes true, hormones also play a powerful rule in obesity and this is something to consider when you are trying to lose weight. Your urge to eat, the weight you put on and your mental state are all affected by hormones. We look into the effects of your hormones upon your weight.

Obesity is on the rise. People are fatter than ever before and for many, it seems like losing weight is an impossible and uphill task. For many people the advice “move more and eat less” just does not work. If you are feeling the strain of being overweight and the depression that this can cause, you might want to cut yourself some slack and stop beating yourself up about it. In many cases weight gain has a direct link with your hormones and their effect upon the metabolism and your mood state.

What are Hormones?

Sounds a silly question perhaps, after all, everyone knows what hormones are, but most of us don’t really know what they do and their purpose.

Hormones are chemicals in your body that act as messengers and travel between the brain and the other organs and tissues. They affect most of your bodily processes and cover all the natural urges and parts of life.

Hormonal functions include:

  • Mood
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual function
  • Metabolism
  • Growth and development

Hormones are produced by the endocrine glands, which are special groups of cells specific for this purpose. The major endocrine glands include the adrenal glands, pituitary, thalamus, thyroid, pineal gland and pancreas. Women also produce female hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone from their ovaries. Men produce male hormones from the testes – testosterone the male hormone.

Most of the time our hormones remain in balance but when there is even a tiny change in hormone levels the effects can be very noticeable and can be an indication of an underlying problem. Some hormones affect the metabolism and this can lead to weight gain or in some cases weight loss.

What is the Metabolism?

The metabolism describes the thousands of chemical reactions that the body needs to maintain the living state of the cells and this complex network of hormones and enzymes convert food into fuel. The metabolism also manages how quickly you burn this fuel off or store it.

All living things with a cell structure have a metabolism including plants and animals. Our metabolism is complex and very closely linked to food, nutritional intake and calorie intake. We get our energy from food, unlike plants that synthesise energy via sunlight. Your metabolism is sometimes used to describe the way your body processes the various food groups. These are:

  • Carbohydrates – used to produce energy in the body. Starches and sugars are essential for producing glucose. Cellulose, the other type of carbs, found in fibre is good for general health, adds bulk to diet and helps maintain healthy bowel function.
  • Fats – Source of energy. Fats help form cell structure and provide energy reserves or fat. Essential fatty acids are crucial for health but saturated fats contribute to high cholesterol levels and heart disease.
  • Protein – builds tissue and is essential for their amino acid content crucial for cell structure. Protein is found in meat, fish, eggs beans and grains.

We need a mix of all these food components to keep fit and healthy. Any exercise you do also has an effect on your metabolism and helps prevent excess food from being stored as fat.

Hormones and The Metabolism

Some hormones have a direct effect on the metabolism and the way you store fat. Leptin, insulin, growth hormones and sex hormones can cause your metabolism to become abnormal and often lead to weight gain. There are also hormone related health conditions that will affect your weight.


Leptin is a hormone that is produced by fat cells and it is the hormone that tells you when you have had enough to eat and appears to control how the body stores fat. Although many obese people have high levels of leptin produced by their high levels of fat it seems that people who are overweight are not sensitive to this hormone’s function. This means the messages that signal fullness after eating are not passed onto the brain.

This is a major reason why already obese people continue to overeat. They never feel full and research is ongoing into why this happens. Although some slimming pills claim to raise leptin levels, this does not really address the problem. Obese people already have high leptin levels and still put on extra weight.

Sex hormones

The sex hormones play a powerful role in weight gain because they affect the way your body distributes and stores fat. Women of childbearing age store fat on the hips and buttocks – typically pear-shaped. Post-menopausal women and men in the same age group store fat around the middle in the typical apple shape. Lack of oestrogen is believed to cause weight gain.

As men age their androgen levels – a hormone produced by the testes, also decreases. These hormonal changes lead to the accumulation of body fat around the midriff. In middle age, it is important to adjust your diet so that you do not pile on the pounds.


Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and is important for regulating metabolism because it controls glucose and energy levels. If you become obese, you run the risk of developing type 2 diabetes because the signals sent by insulin are lost. Although a lack of functioning insulin causes type 1 diabetes, this is not diet related but a medical condition. People who suffer from type 1 diabetes have to monitor their diet extremely careful so are highly unlikely to be overweight.

Type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly widespread and is a side effect of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle.

Growth Hormone

Produced by the pituitary gland, human growth hormone or HGH regulates muscle and directly affects the speed of the metabolism, the rate that you burn off fat and energy. People who are obese have very low levels of HGH.

Hormones and the Effects Upon Mood

Serotonin is a hormone that creates the feel good effect in the brain and when serotonin levels are low it can lead to depression and over eating for comfort. (see comfort food article) . Low serotonin is a common symptom of the menopause but can be caused by lack of sunlight and other factors.

Every winter, many people attribute low serotonin as simply being the winter blues caused by lack of sunlight and is the reason why most of us put on weight at this time. .Low serotonin leads to weight gain because comfort eating makes us feel better.

If you are depressed and consult your doctor, you will probably be given a drug to raise your serotonin levels. There are also herbal supplements you can take to raise serotonin naturally. There is a proven link with low serotonin and weight gain.

Hormonal Conditions that Cause Weight Gain

There are also hormonal medical conditions that cause you to put on weight.

One common cause is that of reduced thyroid function where the thyroid gland’s ability to produce hormones is impaired or the body is not using these hormones in the normal way. In many cases, this will result in slowing your metabolism and subsequent weight gain. If you notice yourself putting on weight fast, you should seek advice from your doctor. Thyroid problems are common and have a significant effect on weight.

Common Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance

  • Weight gain or rapid loss
  • Fatigue
  • Skin problems
  • Loss of memory
  • Diminished sex drive
  • Depression, which leads to overeating

More Serious Symptoms of Hormonal Disorders

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Arthritis
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Anxiety
  • Abnormal heart beat

You should consult your doctor if you notice these symptoms in case there is an underlying medical problem. However many of these symptoms are associated with the menopause – a common flash point for weight gain.

Hormonal imbalance at specific times in your life such as the menopause is a natural occurrence and although you can take hormone replacement therapy to get through it, most people manage to survive the menopause without treatment.

It is important to pay attention to your diet and not to overeat at this time. Most people find that they put on weight around menopause so it is essential to take notice. Once the weight is on it is hard to shift.

Hormonal imbalance also occurs naturally throughout the teenage years and although some “puppy fat” maybe natural, a bad diet and lack of exercise will not help it go away and may line up a future of adult weight issues. You need to take action before your weight becomes a major problem.

Hormonal Imbalance can Cause Obesity and Obesity can Cause Hormonal Imbalance

Research shows that weight gain may cause hormonal imbalance rather than the other way around and that it is linked with diet and a lack of physical activity.

Obesity is a growing problem and essentially it comes down to our diet and activity levels rather than our hormones. People have always had hormones – even plants have hormones and previous generations were not as fat as many people are today. The major difference is that food is more easily available now than ever before and generally more fattening. Lifestyles are sedentary with many of us working on computers and driving cars, rather than bikes. We are eating more fattening food and doing less exercise and this combined with hormonal imbalance is leading to obesity in high numbers.

What Can I Do About It?

The important thing is not just to sit back and blame your weight gain on your hormones. It might be a good reason but it is not going to make you feel better or do your health any good.

Yes, certain hormonal conditions such as an under-active thyroid gland will be a contributory factor to obesity, and going through the menopause will see you putting on extra weight. However, switching to a healthier lifestyle, changing your diet and taking exercise will help your metabolism and have a beneficial effect upon your hormones.

You should consult your doctor if you have any of the hormonal symptoms or notice rapid weight loss or weight gain.

It is not just about the way that you look and feel. Obesity is a serious medical condition that can cause problems such as diabetes and heart disease. It is essential to get healthy so that you can prevent these problems in the future and enjoy your life right now

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