3 fat storing hormones influence weight. Thus, if we understand the role of these 3 fat storing hormones on our weight, weight loss success or weight control can become easier.
3 Hormones to Control to
Achieve and Maintain Weight Loss
3 Fat Storing Hormones
Generally, after we have eaten a meal, blood sugar levels rise. Pancreas detects raising blood sugar levels and releases the hormone insulin into the bloodstream (put very (!) simply). It's insulin's job to travel through the body and collect or uptake sugar (glucose). It then transports it to whichever cells need it for energy, such as muscle, liver, or fat (among others). Subsequently, as cells absorb sugar, blood sugar levels drop. But, we can't live on blood sugar levels which are too low. Hence, the pancreas releases glucagon, another hormone. Glucagon communicates with the liver to release stored sugar to increase blood sugar levels.
Insulin removes excess glucose from the blood creating stable blood glucose levels.
Insulin and Food
I'm sure you have heard of healthy, good and unhealthy, bad carbohydrates or complex and simple carbohydrates or low glycemic and high glycemic food. This basically means that some food (bad, simple, high glycemic) spikes our blood sugar levels more quickly than other food (good, complex, low glycemic).
Insulin Response to High Glycemic Food
- soda & fruit juices
- baguettes and other white breads as well as rice
- sweet or salty snacks, such as pretzels, popcorn, chips, cookies, candy and chocolate.....just to name a few
These are considered high glycemic food, also referred to as simple, often highly processed and unhealthy food. Since these raise blood glucose levels more quickly, more insulin is needed. Rule of thumb: high glycemic food tends to be low in fiber and vitamins and minerals.
High glycemic food puts a high demand on our pancreas to produce insulin.
Insulin Response to Low Glycemic Food
- whole grains, pumpernickel, couscous, quinoa, oats
- veggies and most fresh fruit
- pulses, beans, and lentils
- nuts & seeds
These are considered low glycemic, healthy food items which are often richer in fiber and vitamins and minerals. Plus, they tend to take longer to digest. As result, these fiber rich food items have a more gradual, slower impact on blood sugar. But it isn't just carbohydrates that lead to an insulin response. Dietary protein, too, promotes insulin secretion. Especially, high protein food as it's common in high protein, low carbohydrate diets, can lead to insulin metabolism (Rietman et al.). The article "Insulin - Fat Storing Hormone: Basics to Successful Fat Loss" covers more in-depth:
- which foods have a high and low glycemic index or load
- why glycemic load is much more important than glycemic index
- the relationship between glycemic load and insulin response
- tips in how to reduce insulin response to achieve weight loss goals
Some food is converted more quickly into glucose; others more slowly. Thus, insulin response varies with food.
Insulin and Stress
Insulin isn't only released after we've eaten. This hormon is actually ALSO released when we are stressed. When our body is under stress, it will release stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These stress hormones raise blood glucose (Marcovecchio et al.) levels to provide us with much needed energy for the "fight-or-flight" response. Yet, it isn't just emotional or work stress that raises blood glucose levels. Depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and anger and hostility, too, increase blood glucose contributing to increased risk for type 2 diabetes (Eur Resear Consortium).
Insulin and Fat Storage
Now, what does the hormone insulin have to do with weight gain or weight loss or more precisely the ability to store fat? Put simply,
"Chronic, constant" spikes in insulin reduce fat burning
A study done in 2010 (Stenkula et al. but also Girousse et al.) actually showed that insulin prompts fat cells to take in glucose. More importantly, insulin stimulates the storage of fat and inhibits the conversion to energy, thus fat break down. (Rosen & Spiegelman).
Insulin is actually a sugar storing hormone; not a fat storing hormone
insulin increases fat storage and blocks fat breakdown.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone, which is produced from cholesterol in our adrenal glands. Now, I could get into the whole "fight-or-flight" response, after all, that's the true purpose of cortisol (and it's partner epinephrine). But, I will spare you with scientific details.
Hormone cortisol - 3 aspects to keep in mind:
- Cortisol increases blood sugar levels (as mentioned above), thus putting a lot of pressure on the pancreas to increase the hormon insulin
- Cortisol blocks or hinders the effect of insulin; insulin can't do its job and reduce blood glucose levels --> leading over time to insulin resistance
- Cortisol is released if blood sugar levels are too low
More often than not, we coin cortisol the stress hormone. Stress gives us belly fat. We are stressed during the day, we are even stressed during the holidays, and some of us already begin their day feeling stressed.
Stress increases cortisol which leads to increased fat storage especially around the abdomen
Cortisol Increasing Factors
- waking up in the morning (yes, cortisol is highest in the morning) that's why you actually DON'T need coffee first thing in the morning!
- exercising (especially prolonged and excessively)
- acute stress
- chronic stress
- sleepless nights or sleeping with light
- increased coffee consumption (Lovallo et al.)
Cortisol Reducing Factors
Stress triggers cortisol. Reducing stress reduces cortisol.
- adopt stress-reducing techniques, such as breathing exercises, meditations,
- engage in stress- relieving hobbies, such as playing music, drawing, cooking
- give adaptogen herbs, such as ginseng, licorice root (Al-Dujaili et al.) or rhodiola (Jurcău et al.) a try
- go for a walk in nature and take your lunch break out to the park
- exercise outdoor healthily (not excessively, which increases stress)
- soak up on vitamin D/enjoy the sun
- get plenty of sleep (preferably in a dark room)
Cortisol and Fat Storage
Cortisol influences where we store fat, hence, the belly fat comment
For example, cortisol can use triglycerides from storage and relocate them to visceral fat cells (those deep under the muscle, deep in the abdomen). Most important, when we read visceral we should see a red flag. This is BAD NEWS. Visceral fat is stored deep around our organs in a gel-like consistency. Now, with some people we can see they carry extra fat but even skinny or normal weight people could carry the most dangerous fat around their organs!
Visceral fat cells have more cortisol receptors than subcutaneous fat --> under stress, increased cortisol production will increase visceral fat.
Visceral fat increases our risk for
Cortisol increases weight due to blood sugar-insulin problem as mentioned above
Cortisol stimulates appetite and craving for high-caloric food
- just think "stress-munchies"
Cortisol can break down muscle
- Prolonged elevated levels of cortisol, due to chronic stress, for example, can break down muscle protein leading to muscle loss (Braun & Marks)
Stress activates cortisol production and interferes with metabolism, sleep, appetite, and cravings.
A love-hate-relationship with estrogen. Estrogen gives us women the curvy shape some of us might desire. Others want nothing more than to get ride of their large breasts or thighs. Estrogen is the reason women carry more fat than men. And elevated estrogen levels tend to increase body fat.
Sources of Estrogen
In women, estrogen (actually 3 steroid hormones; estrone, estradiol, and estriol.) is mainly produced in the ovaries and secreted into the blood. Further, estrogen is also produced by fat cells and the adrenal gland. In men, estrogen (although at much lower levels than women) is secreted by the adrenal glands and the testes. This hormone is thought to affect sperm count, especially in overweight men. Excess adipose tissue can lead to excess estrogen.
Estrogen in Our Environment
Estrogen found in our environment and food sources actually mimic the action of estrogen produced within our body. Xenoestrogens is „estrogen“ found in our environment. Phytoestrogens is „estrogen“ found in foods and plants.
- estrogen is especially high in dairy products (Malekinejad) and to lesser extend in meat products
- it is found in plant products, just think of soy, flax, citrus fruits, and fennel and celery just to name a few
- and of course in our environment, just think plastic, cosmetics, pesticides, petroleum based products, styrofoam, nail polish, and household cleaners. They disrupt our endocrine system, altering immune functions and metabolism (Filby et al.).
Estrogen and Fat Storage in Women
- Estrogen increases the number of alpha-adrenergic receptors in the lower body of women (Pedersen, et al.)
- Alpha-adrenergic receptors slow fat release --> one reason many women carry more fat around their hips and thighs
- Estrogen contributes to more subcutaneous (under the skin) fat storage, instead of deep, visceral fat storage
- Effect of estrogen is contingent on where the fat deposits are located (Gavin et al.)
Estrogen is stored in and produced by fat tissue.
Estrogen Influencing Factors
Besides environment and certain foods, such as dairy or plant food these factors, too, increase estrogen:
- coffee (caffeine) increases estrogen levels
- our life-stage, hence, age (estrogen is much higher in our 20s and early 30s than in our 40s)
- menstrual cycle and the phase we are in; day 1-14 estrogen is more dominant
- if we take a birth control pill
- processed food, high in sugar and low in fiber might increase estrogen
- excess body fat
- low fiber diet or high fat diets (Remesar et al.)
Estrogen Reducing Factors
- reduce excess body fat (if body fat is over 28%)
- eat a healthy, fiber and nutrient rich diet (Rose et al.)
- reduce stress
- remove environmental/synthetic estrogen where possible
- reduce alcohol consumption
- choose water bottles made from glass instead of plastic
- use coconut, olive or avocado oil over vegetable oil
- say no to laundry softener
- support your gut health
Estrogen & Some Positive Effects
Since estrogen often gets a bad rap I thought I'd highlight a few positive things to remind us women to love our body!
- it has an anti-cortisol effect --> another reason for pear shaped body shape
- estrogen has an anti-thyroid effect, especially in women that's why women's thyroids are larger than men's
- it actually (together with vitamin D) protects our bone health
- keeps cholesterol under control
- and of course estrogen regulates the functioning of our monthly cycle, is responsible for our female physical features and reproduction
- but there is such thing as too much estrogen which comes with many health problems, such as weight gain, heavy menstrual bleeding, fibrocystic lumps in our breast, fatigue or depression but also anxiousness
High fiber diets and healthy functioning digestive system, thus regular bowel moments, can decrease estrogen.
Now, you might wonder:
- Is there a tell-tale sign that our hormones are in balance?
We could say,
- experiencing cravings for sweets
- feeling fatigued
- not sleeping well
as signs that we are not in fat burning state. Actually, we should learn to think of these as tell-tail sign that our hormones are out of wack. Jade Teta likes to use the term: check if oru HEC is in CHECK.
If our HEC is in balance or in check, our hormones are balanced, and we have an easier time, given proper nutrition and lifestyle, to lose weight (fat). By the way, a great way to balance our hormones is Chia Water. But of course it isn't just as simple as controlling one or two hormones. Our body is very complex and hormones interact and behave according to the tissue they act on.
And by the way, in terms of fat metabolism or fat storage currently insulin and cortisol have far greater impacts than estrogen.
But please don't conclude that hormones are the only reason you can't lose weight! Weight loss in contingent on a variety of factors.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share and/or comment.
Other articles you might like:
Al-Dujaili EA, Kenyon CJ, Nicol MR, Mason JI. (2011). Liquorice and glycyrrhetinic acid increase DHEA and deoxycorticosterone levels in vivo and in vitro by inhibiting adrenal SULT2A1 activity. Mol Cell Endocrinol, 336(1-2):102-9. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2010.12.011
Aschbacher K, Kornfeld S, Picard M, Puterman E, Havel P, Stanhope K, et al. (2014). Chronic Stress Increases Vulnerability to Diet-Related Abdominal Fat, Oxidative Stress, and Metabolic Risk. Psychoneuroendocrinology, Aug; 46: 14–22. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.04.003
Braun TP, Marks DL. (2015). The regulation of muscle mass by endogenous glucocorticoids. Front Physiol, 6: 12. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2015.00012 Filby AL, Neuparth T, Thorpe KL, Owen R, Galloway TS, Tyler CR. (2007). Health Impacts of Estrogens in the Environment, Considering Complex Mixture Effects. Environ Health Perspect, 115(12): 1704–1710. doi: 10.1289/ehp.10443
Gavin KM, Cooper EE, Raymer DK, Hickner RC. (2013). Estradiol Effects on Subcutaneous Adipose Tissue Lipolysis in Premenopausal Women are Adipose Tissue Depot Specific and Treatment Dependent. Am J Physiol Endocrin Metab, 304 (11): 31167-e1174. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00023.2013
Girousse A, Tavernier G, Valle C, Moro C, Mejhert N, Dinel AL, et al. (2013). Partial Inhibition of Adipose Tissue Lipolysis Improves Glucose Metabolism and Insulin Sensitivity Without Alteration of Fat Mass. PLoS Biol, 11(2): e1001485. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001485
Jurcău R, Jurcău I, Bodescu C. (2012). Anxiety and salivary cortisol modulation in exercise induced stress, using a phytotherapic product containing Rhodiola Rosea. Palestrica Third Mill Civil Sport, 13 (3): 213-217. (Abstract)
Lovallo WR, Whitsett TL, al'Absi M, Sung BH, Vincent AS, Wilson MF. (2005). Caffeine Stimulation of Cortisol Secretion Across the Waking Hours in Relation to Caffeine Intake Levels. Psychosom Med, 67(5): 734–739. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000181270.20036.06
Malekinejad H., Rezabakhsh A. (2015). Hormones in Dairy Foods and Their Impact on Public Health - A Narrative Review Article. Iran J Public Health, 44(6): 742–758. (Article)
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