You’ve seen it with your own eyes. Maybe you’ve even experienced it. It is not at all unusual to see people’s body shape change dramatically during times of hormonal upheaval – usually with weight gains.

Puberty is one such time affecting males and females. Body shapes change, and for some it is the beginning of a lifetime of weight disorders. For some it may be anorexia, for others it may be unweildy hormone dictated weight gain.

Menopause is another time for females. The “middle aged spread” is not at all unusual at this time of hormonal change.

“Middle age spread” is not confined to females, either. Although far more controversial a topic and not universally accepted as fact, a so-called male menopause known as Andropause is believed by some experts to be another time of hormonal change that often results in weight gain in mid life for men. In andropause, the natural, gradual age related reduction in male hormones sometimes accelerates. A man experiences this sudden decline in male hormones and weight gain sadly happens.

Many women even report significant monthly weight fluctuations related to their menstrual cycles.

Clearly and undoubtedly, genetics tells at least a part of the causes of obesity. Genes create hormones and as we have seen in the examples above, hormonal influences in the human body are integrally related to body weight. Hormones and body weight, hormones and weight gain, are inextricably connected.

That said, that is about all that can be said with any degree of accuracy at this point of knowedge in the scientific community. Much research is being done into the role of hormones in weight gain and obesity and we are sure to all learn much more over the next few years.

A number of hormones have already been identified as being in some way related to body weight. Given, though, that scientists are discovering ‘new’ hormones in the human body quite regularly, there is clearly alot more to learn yet.

For instance, what conclusions can be reached by the fact that obesity in men is closely correlated with low testosterone levels? Does the low testosterone levels cause the obesity or weight gain, or does the excess weight result in reduced testosterone levels? The old adages about “cart before the horse” and “cat chasing it’s own tail” spring readily to mind.

What we can say is that some, but unlikely to be all, of the hormones related to body weight have been identified, and some are understood while others are merely observed and in need of ongoing research.

we’ll look at some of the hormones known to be involved. Genetics are clearly involved as genes produce all hormones. It bears repeating that scientific knowledge on these matters is incomplete and much research is still being undertaken by the scientific community to understand these genetically produced hormones and their functions, and even to discover other currently unknown hormones.

That said, if you have a chronic over weight or obesity problem that has not been responding to genuine and determined dietary and exercise therapies, you should ask your doctor (or specialist endocrinologist) for a thorough blood and urine examination of all of the following hormone levels – along with other tests such as mineral deficiencies. You may just gain a better insight into your condition, or even identify some other disorder that can be treated that is producing the side effects of weight gain.

A word of caution, however. If you are diagnosed with a hormone imbalance, be very careful about resorting too rapidly to various hormone replacement drugs – all of which carry some degree of risk of side effects. Most hormone imbalances are, in fact, an indication of nutrient deficiencies and should first of all be treated with an appropriate change of diet, or with appropriate mineral or essential fatty acid supplementation. Be sure to discuss these with your treating practitioner thoroughly, and do not be afraid to ask for a referral to a dietician or an ortho-molecular medicine specialist.

Leptin

Leptin is a hormone produced by a gene that is found in adipose (fat) cells. Leptin affects the appetite receptors of the brain and reduces the urge to eat. It is also believed to carry out an additional function quite similar to insulin in controlling how the body manages it’s reserves of body fat.

Interestingly, overweight people tend to have higher levels of leptin, and leptin levels fall as weight is lost. It works as a self-balancing biological mechanism, particularly to prevent starvation by stimulating appetite as weight is lost, and to reduce appetite as weight is gained.

That raises the question of why obesity occurs at all, given that obese people have high levels of leptin. It has been theorized (inconclusively at this stage) that obese people may have an insensitivity to leptin that stops the signal reaching the brain, and that the body is over-producing leptin in an attempt to compensate for the insensitivity.

Clinical studies have shown that leptin injections produce very significant weight loss benefits in rats. No human trials have as yet been published, though there is a hope of future medications to aid the fight against obesity based on leptin replacement/supplementation drugs.

Cortisol

Cortisol is closely related to Adrenaline, both being produced by the Adrenal Glands near the upper portion of each kidney.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced involuntarily during moments or periods of heightened stress. It is part of the body’s defence mechanism producing the so-called “fight or flight” response in times of stress.

Cortisol affects weight gain and metabolism in a number of ways. Being an inbuilt defence mechanism (in evolutionary terms, think of a caveman coming face to face with a hungry lion), it temporarily shuts down certain bodily functions and activates others to deal with the emergency situation.

For one thing, cortisol increases appetite. Most overweight people can attest to an understanding of “comfort eating” and resultant weight gain during times of stress. It is an evolutionary response to make a person eat, particularly something sugary, to urgently boost blood glucose levels for the energy to either fight that raging lion or run from it.

Similarly, it shuts down or significantly slows down your metabolic rate as your body seeks to preserve its energy supplies.

The effect on weight gain from those two factors is obvious. While it may be possible for a person to have malfunctioning adrenal glands that simply overproduce cortisol, in most cases the real solution is to practice various relaxation and stress releasing activities (mediatation, prayer, yoga, deep breathing exercises, psychological counselling, social support groups, hypnosis, etc), or to change their lifestyle to minimise or eliminate sources of ongoing stress.

Adrenaline

While closely related to cortisol and manufactured by the same glands, adrenaline appears to have the opposite effect on metabolism to cortisol.

Adrenaline is the better known hormone of the two amongst the general community, though much of what is commonly thought to be an “adrenaline rush” is likely to be a “cortisol rush”.

Cortisol is secreted in response to fear and danger and stress, as very distinct from adrenaline which is secreted in response to excitement. Admittedly, the line of differentiation is not always clear. For example, a first-time parachute jump could be either a fearful or an exciting event. (An experienced parachutist is far less likely to be fearful, and will usually be doing it specifically for the excitement of the “adrenaline rush”.)

Adrenaline, unlike cortisol, increases the metabolic rate and assists in breaking down the body’s stored energy in fat cells. It produces an effect known as “thermogenesis”, being an increase in body heat caused by burning off energy stores.

An adrenaline boost also serves to suppress appetite.

Unfortunately, obesity causes a change in adrenaline production. In general, the more the weight excess of the individual, the lower the level of adrenaline.

Being an “excitement” hormone, adrenaline has similarities to the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. Certain antidepressant medications that inhibit the re-uptake (removal) of these neurotransmitters from the body are known to produce weight loss as a side-effect.

At least one prescription medication of this variety, Meridia, is now approved specifically as a weight loss drug, and claims not only to inhibit the re-uptake of the neurotransmitters, but also of adrenalin itself, leaving it in your system longer.

Testosterone

Obesity is usually accompanied by low testosterone levels, particularly in men. Once again, the “cause or effect” question has not been conclusively answered. It may be fair, though, to point out that in men, low testosterone levels may lead to reduced aggression and assertion and the physical activity and thus metabolic function (calorie burning) that entails.

Low testosterone levels may be caused by other conditions and this should be assessed by a competent physician. Merely using testosterone replacement drugs or patches is unlikely of itself to cause weight loss and may have severe and unwanted side effects – particularly behavioral.

It is known that both of the main male and female sex hormones (testosterone or oestrogen) require the mineral Boron for their production. Boron is lacking in many soils and accordingly is lacking in many diets, leading to low levels of these hormones in many people.

Testosterone levels, along with oestrogen and thyroid hormones, are known to decrease when a person is under stress.

Thyroid Hormones

The thyroid and parathyroid glands are found in the neck, just below the larynx (voice box). They produce a series of related hormones – sometimes abbreviated as T1, T2, T3 and T4 – the major one of which is thyroxine. Thyroxine increases metabolic rate.

A slow thyroid, known as hypothyroidism, results in weight gain and other disorders (eg goiters). An overactive thyroid, known as hyperthyroidism, is also undesirable and produces other disorders – though is rare in an obese person.

There is a “healthy range” of T3 and T4 that is neither too high nor too low. An overweight person should endeavour to achieve a blood measurement of these hormones at the upper end of the healthy range to assist in weight loss.

Although medications are available, treat them as a last resort. Some are merely a hormone replacement, adding hormone into your blood stream without actually rectifying any disorder of the thyroid glands themselves.

A healthy thyroid requires the mineral Iodine for proper function. Iodine may be found in iodised salt, or in iodine supplements, in multi vitamin & mineral supplements, or in the seaweed kelp. (Kelp is available in tablet form at health food stores, pharmacists and supermarkets.)

Recent studies have shown that thyroid function is improved even further when iodine is combined with another mineral, selenium. They appear to work synergistically.

Other recent studies indicate that both hyper- and hypo- thyroidism are indicative of low copper levels.

Care should be taken before using iodine supplements so as not to overdo it and induce hyperthyroidism instead.

The thyroid is also adversely affected by at least two common foods. People with slow thyroids or wanting to boost their thyroid hormones to the upper end of the healthy range would do well to avoid soy products and peanut products. These are known goitregens. (Cause goiters.)

Conversely, coconut oil is a much (wrongly) maligned saturated fat that is credited with being a useful natural thyroid stimulant.

Thyroid hormone levels, along with testosterone and oestrogen hormones, are known to decrease when a person is under stress.

Human Growth Hormone

Human Growth Hormone is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. It influences certain physical characteristics of a person such as their height and bone and muscle growth. It is also one of the hormones involved in determining metabolic rate.

Over weight and obese people generally have low levels of HGH, though studies have shown less than encouraging results for trying to control weight via a daily series of HGH injections. (Although still inconclusive, it could be that low HGH is a result of excess body weight, rather than being the cause of it.)

Oestrogen

The female hormone oestrogen is created by the ovaries and plays a number of roles, some regulating menstrual cycles and others involved with body fat distribution.

Oestrogen is the reason why pre-menopausal women typically store weight around the lower body areas and not the abdomen like men or post-menopausal women.

Animal studies show that lack of oestrogen results in excessive weight gains. Anecdotally, this also appears to be the case in human women, though this is not as yet conclusive.

It is known that both of the main male and female sex hormones (testosterone or oestrogen) require the mineral Boron for their production. Boron is lacking in many soils and accordingly is lacking in many diets, leading to low levels of these hormones in many people.

Oestrogen levels, along with testosterone and thyroid hormones, are known to decrease when a person is under under stress.

Insulin

Insulin is a “longer-term” hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates blood glucose (sugar) levels and converts excess blood glucose into storable form in adipose (fat) cells.

Improper functioning of Insulin, or protracted “insulin resistance syndrome” (also known as “Syndrome X”) results in Type Two Diabetes. In very crude layman’s terms, this happens as a result of the pancreas being overworked due to prolonged periods of excess sugar and starch intakes.

Pancreatic health (and accordingly balanced hormone production) is known to benefit from the minerals Chromium and Vanadium, and the B3 vitamin Niacin. These are often lacking in western diets as they are uncommon in the heavily farmed soils in which the food we eat is grown. A mineral supplement containing both Chromium and Vanadium may assist in prevention and early treatment of pancreas and insulin related disorders.

Other evidence also suggests that chromium levels in the human body are in fact depleted with the ingestion of sugars of refined flours.

Ghrelin

Ghrelin is a “short term” hormone produced in the stomach that sends a signal to the brain when it is time to eat.

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in June 2004 suggests that fructose (the type of sugar found in fruit juice, corn syrup and soda/soft drinks) stimulates the production of ghrelin, resulting in greater calorie consumption. (Of course, all dieters have known all along that fructose drinks are the very first thing that should be eliminated from their diet.)

Researchers are studying whether Ghrelin may malfunction in some people, giving the brain too many signals to eat. This research may eventually lead to future drug treatments aimed at suppressing Ghrelin.

In June 2004, a published study by Dr. Julio Licinio, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, showed that in lean men Ghrelin showed several spikes during sleep between midnight and dawn. In the fat men, ghrelin levels stayed level all night long.

“The most powerful ghrelin surge was missing in the obese men, suggesting that their regulatory system has gone awry or can no longer listen to its own cues,” Licinio said in a statement.

Cholecystokinin

As food moves from the stomach and into the jejunum (small intestine), this “short term” hormone releases another signal to the brain that you have eaten enough and that it is time to stop eating. It also plays a role in the digestive process and the uptake of nutrients (and calories) by triggering the release of enzymes in the gallbladder and pancreas.

This hormone is believed to be the subject of research by pharmaceutical companies seeking to develop a drug to act as an appetite suppressant.

PYY3-36

This “short term” hormone is secreted from cells in the lining of the intestines after eating. It is another of the hormones that signals the brain of satiety, and thus to stop eating. PYY levels tend to be low in obese subjects. A small scale study has shown that an infusion of PYY3-36 decreased appetite and reduced food intake over 24 hours by 33%, as compared to placebo control group.

Melanin-Concentrating Hormone (MCH)

MCH’s primary role is in the control of feeding behaviors and energy metabolism. It is one of many compounds known to stimulate the appetite. MCH also acts as a thyroid suppressant. The obesity consequence of increased appetite and suppressed thyroid function seems quite clear. Experiments in rats show that MCH deletion produces lean rats. This gives rise to hope of future human treatments for obesity based on suppression of MCH.

DHEA

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is the most abundant hormone found in the bloodstream. The functions of DHEA are numerous, including maximizing efficiency of brain function, and as a precursor for all other hormones – particularly conversion of androgen into testosterone and oestrogen – in the body by supplying the body with what it needs to maintain an optimum balance of all hormones that regulate metabolic functions.

Furthermore, DHEA lowers cholesterol, enhances immune function and acts as an antioxidant.

Our DHEA levels generally decline as we age. Low levels of DHEA are linked to such conditions as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, arthritis, and many other symptoms associated with aging.

DHEA is also an anti-stress, or stress regulating, hormone, though under extreme or prolonged stress DHEA can become depleted.

Potassium and Magnesium are believed to be essential minerals for the production and proper function of DHEA.

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