Hormones are key players in metabolism, mood, menstruation cycle, and pregnancy. Progesterone, an ovarian hormone, prepares the uterus for pregnancy and helps maintain a healthy pregnancy (1). On the contrary, Progestin, a synthetic drug that mimics progesterone, is a contraceptive pill (2). Many women gain weight during pregnancy and while on the pill. Does this mean that progesterone can cause weight gain in women? What does the scientific research say? Can hormone replacement therapy help? Read on to get more clarity and to understand what lifestyle changes you need to make to prevent hormonal weight gain. Swipe up.
In This Article
Does Progesterone Cause Weight Gain?
Progesterone may or may not cause weight gain in women. Let’s understand what effect progesterone has on a woman’s body weight.
- Progesterone Increases Hunger
It is a known fact that consuming more calories and not burning enough calories can lead to weight gain. But what if your appetite was under the control of a few hormones (like progesterone)? It is true that sex hormones, including progesterone and testosterone, increase appetite (3). Since progesterone levels are high during pregnancy, there is a possibility that it may increase hunger in this period.
A scientific study shows that increased weight gain in women could also be triggered due to Progestin (birth control), which may increase the chances of binge eating in women during the luteal phase (4). However, more research needs to be conducted to confirm this finding.
- Low Progesterone Levels Cause Weight Loss
Menopause, miscarriages, and ovarian diseases cause progesterone levels to drop. This may elevate estrogen levels. Estrogen is a female hormone that also helps prepare the body for pregnancy and lactation (5). However, estrogen also reduces hunger (3). This means that reduced progesterone and increased estrogen levels may lead to weight loss.
This could mean that progesterone is a primary driver of weight gain in women. However, there are many other hormones that also can cause weight gain. Scroll down to know more.
Other Hormones That Cause Weight Gain
Insulin is a hormone that helps in the uptake of glucose in the bloodstream by cells. Glucose is then converted to usable energy (ATP) in the cells. However, the body sometimes may not produce insulin or the cells may not recognize insulin. This prevents glucose uptake, potentially leading to diabetes type 1 and 2 (6). With increased blood sugar levels, the excess sugar does not get used up and gets stored in the body.
Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, fat oxidation, and food intake. Reduced secretion of thyroid hormones, also known as hypothyroidism, reduces metabolism and increases BMI and the risk of obesity (7).
- Leptin And Ghrelin
Leptin is a hormone that reduces hunger. However, people with obesity are found to be leptin-resistant, which causes them to consume more calories (8). Ghrelin, on the other hand, is a hunger-stimulating hormone. Overproduction of ghrelin stimulates excessive hunger and increases one’s food intake (9).
Cortisol is a stress hormone. Excessive cortisol stimulates hunger and increased food intake. Scientists have also found a direct link between elevated cortisol levels and increased abdominal obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease (10), (11).
Testosterone is a male hormone and is present in negligible amounts in women. However, women undergoing menopause have higher testosterone levels, which can increase the chances of developing visceral fat (12).
Talk to your doctor and get a thorough check-up done to understand if your weight gain is due to progesterone or any other hormone or other factors (such as genetic predisposition or medications like anti-depressants). Your doctor may prescribe medicines. If you are going through menopause, you may also be prescribed hormone replacement therapy. But what is it? How does it work?
Can Hormone Replacement Therapy Help?
Hormone replacement therapy is prescribed for women going through menopause. It is the most effective treatment for relieving menopausal symptoms (13). Menopause increases the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. HRT is mainly used to relieve health risks associated with menopause, but research has shown that HRT with estradiol and progesterone also helps reduce weight and waist to hip ratio (13), (14). A study also found that a BMI reduction due to HRT may reduce the risk of endometrial cancer (15). Another study confirmed that HRT not only reduces body weight in postmenopausal women but also reduces the risk of breast cancer (16). Scientists have also found that HRT reduces muscle loss in postmenopausal women (17). However, other studies suggest further investigation to confirm positive outcomes regarding HRT and prevention of muscle loss in postmenopausal women (18).
Hormone replacement therapy is beneficial for women going through menopause and/or postmenopausal women. It not only helps reduce body weight but also lowers the risk of other diseases and conditions.
But what should women do to prevent hormonal weight gain if they are not going through menopause? A crucial step forward is to change one’s lifestyle habits. The following section lays out a complete plan on how to go about it.
Lifestyle Changes To Prevent Hormonal Weight Gain
Lifestyle interventions work best for weight gain. Here are a few ways you can give your body and brain the cue and take charge of your body:
- Consume fiber-rich foods: Vegetables, low-GI fruits, and whole grains are loaded with dietary fiber. Dietary fiber takes longer to digest and helps reduce hunger. Dietary fiber also helps increase good gut bacteria and promotes better digestion (19).
- Consume protein with each meal: Lean protein sources like chicken breast without skin, fish, tofu, mushrooms, lentils, and beans are rich in protein. Proteins take longer to digest and increase satiety (20). Consume a source of protein with each meal to reduce hunger.
- Consume healthy fats: Healthy fats help reduce inflammation and inflammation-induced weight gain (21), (22). Foods like fatty fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds are a great source of healthy fats that you can add to your diet.
- Practice portion control: Practice portion control to avoid consuming excess calories (23). For instance, it is very easy to consume more nuts. Nuts are usually high in calories. Unless you practice portion control, even healthy foods can cause weight gain.
- Avoid junk and processed foods: Fries, pizza, burger, frozen foods, salami, sausage, canned food, and packaged drinks are loaded with sugar, salt, trans-fats, preservatives, and other additives. These are not good for the body and can affect the body’s metabolism and increase bad cholesterol (24).
- Mix cardio and strength training: Exercising and keeping yourself active is very important to burn calories and maintain mental health. Three days of cardio and two days of strength training are ideal to burn fat and preserve lean muscle (25). Talk to your trainer to customize your exercise routine according to your body needs. You can also play a sport, dance, or swim to keep your body active.
- Learn a new skill: Do you always feel stressed and anxious? A good way to channelize your energy is to learn a new skill. Pick a hobby, enroll in an online class, or teach your best skills to the world. The process of learning will keep your brain engaged in a positive activity that will lower your stress and improve brain function (26).
- Sleep to reboot: Sleep deprivation is a major cause of weight gain. Get at least 6 to 7 hours of sleep every night. Switch off your electronics, listen to soothing music, and/or read a book. It is also important to sleep in a dark room to help your body produce melatonin, a hormone that maintains sleep-wake cycles (27).
Hormones play an important role in various physiological functions. Progesterone is a hormone that prepares the female body for pregnancy and maintains healthy pregnancy. While there is a relation between progesterone and weight gain in women during pregnancy and those on birth control, it is not the only hormone that causes weight gain. Other hormones, genetics, medications, and lifestyle factors are also key players. The best way forward is to talk to your doctor about your weight gain. Your doctor will suggest medications, lifestyle changes, and/or hormone replacement therapy based on your age, genetics, current body weight, and other factors.
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- Physiology Progesterone
- Sex hormones appetite and eating behaviour in women
- Ovarian hormones and obesity
- Hypothyroidism and obesity: An intriguing link
- Leptin Obesity and Leptin Resistance: Where Are We 25 Years Later?
- Ghrelin and Obesity: Identifying Gaps and Dispelling Myths. A Reappraisal
- Stress cortisol and obesity: a role for cortisol responsiveness in identifying individuals prone to obesity
- Stress and Obesity: Are There More Susceptible Individuals?
- Testosterone and Visceral Fat in Midlife Women: The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) Fat Patterning Study
- Advances in hormone replacement therapy: weight benefits of drospirenone a 17alpha-spirolactone-derived progestogen
- Beneficial effect of hormone replacement therapy on weight loss in obese menopausal women
- Body Mass Index Hormone Replacement Therapy and Endometrial Cancer Risk: A Meta-Analysis
- Weight Gain Body Mass Index Hormone Replacement Therapy and Postmenopausal Breast Cancer in a Large Prospective Study
- Association Between Hormone Therapy and Muscle Mass in Postmenopausal Women
- Association Between Hormone Therapy and Muscle Mass in Postmenopausal Women – A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
- High Fiber Diet
- Protein weight management and satiety
- The Science of Fatty Acids and Inflammation
- Obesity and inflammation: the linking mechanism and the complications
- What is the role of portion control in weight management?
- The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food
- Optimizing exercise for fat loss
- Exercising Your Brain: A Review of Human Brain Plasticity and Training-Induced Learning
- Melatonin: Pharmacology Functions and Therapeutic Benefits