Hormones And Weight Gain: Symptoms And Ways To Control

Understand how much influence hormones have on how our bodies function and look.

Medically reviewed by Madhu Sharma, RD Madhu Sharma Madhu SharmaRD
Written by , MSc (Nutrition), CDE Priyanka Sadhukhan MSc (Nutrition), CDE linkedin_icon Experience: 8 years
Edited by , BA (Literature & Psychology), PG Diploma Arshiya Syeda BA (Literature & Psychology), PG Diploma linkedin_icon Experience: 7 years
Fact-checked by , BEd, MSc (Microbiology), Diploma In Nutrition Aparna Mallampalli BEd, MSc (Microbiology), Diploma In Nutrition linkedin_icon Experience: 5 years
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There is a direct link between hormones and weight gain. Sudden weight gain and difficulty losing weight could be the symptoms of hormonal weight gain. A balanced diet and exercise alone may not be as effective in such cases. You also must get your hormone levels checked.

Hormones maintaining homeostasis (a self-regulating process that balances bodily functions) helps manage weight, regulates metabolism, and maintains one’s reproductive health (1).

Most women go through hormonal imbalances due to age, genetics, pregnancy, and menopause, leading to weight gain (2). But which hormones are the key players?

Read on to learn more about the hormones linked to weight gain and how they control hunger, satiety, and metabolism.

Does Hormonal Imbalance Make You Gain Weight?

Hormones, along with your lifestyle, influence your appetite, satiety, metabolism, and weight (3).

Stress, age, genes, and poor lifestyle choices can disrupt your hormonal balance and lead to a sluggish metabolism, indigestion, and uncontrollable hunger. This, ultimately, leads to weight gain.

This graph indicates the results of a survey conducted by Statista among women in the US aged 35 years and older. Around 60 percent of women reported that the impact of declining hormone levels in women as they age was not discussed enough.

Lack Of Discussion Around Hormonal Changes In Women

Source: Statista

So, let’s find out which hormones cause weight gain.

Which Hormone Imbalances Trigger Weight Gain?

Ghrelin which stimulates appetite may cause hormonal weight gain if not balanced
Image: Shutterstock

1. Thyroid

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland present at the base of the neck. It is responsible for releasing three hormones – triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4), and calcitonin (4).

T3 and T4 are mainly responsible for regulating the body temperature and metabolism. They also play a major role in regulating fat and glucose metabolism, food intake, and fat oxidation (the process of breaking down fat molecules) (5), (6).

Imbalances in the thyroid hormones cause a medical condition called hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid gland). Hypothyroidism is associated with decreased metabolic rate and body temperature and a higher BMI (6).

Mild thyroid dysfunction can lead to weight gain and is a possible risk factor of obesity (6).

Hypothyroidism leads to water accumulation, and not fat, that makes you look plump. Severe hypothyroidism can lead to edema (water accumulation in the face) (7). You can gain 5-10 pounds or more if your weight gain is only due to thyroid hormone imbalance.

A healthy lifestyle can lead to weight loss and improve your body composition and thyroid function (8).

2. Leptin

Leptin is mainly secreted by fat cells (adipocytes). It regulates energy expenditure, appetite, and food intake (9), (10).

Your lifestyle and diet play a key role in regulating the leptin levels and your body weight. A study conducted on rats found that eating processed and fast foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and too much fructose can lead to leptin resistance and, consequently, obesity (11).

As you keep consuming more fructose-containing foods, more fat gets accumulated and more leptin is secreted. This, in turn, desensitizes your body to leptin and your brain stops receiving the signal to stop eating. This, ultimately, leads to weight gain (12).

3. Insulin

Insulin, a peptide hormone secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas, regulate blood glucose levels.

Nutritional imbalance, physical inactivity, and overconsumption of processed foods, alcohol, and artificially sweetened drinks, and snacking on unhealthy foods can lead to obesity and insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance increases the secretion of endogenous insulin (the insulin secreted by the pancreas), which leads to weight gain by altering the metabolism of glucose (13).

Lifestyle management, monitoring your hormonal levels, and exercise are essential to prevent insulin-resistant obesity.

4. Ghrelin

Ghrelin is an orexigenic (hunger-stimulant) hormone that stimulates your appetite and food intake and increases fat deposition.

It is secreted by the stomach mainly in response to food. Your stomach secretes ghrelin when it is empty and decreases its production shortly after a meal (14).

After a meal, the ghrelin suppression rate is lower in obese individuals compared to individuals with a normal BMI. This results in overeating, which leads to further weight gain (15).

5. Estrogen

Both high and low levels of estrogeni  Sex hormones in women that help develop and maintain secondary sexual characteristics and the reproductive system. can lead to weight gain among women.

High levels of estrogen promote fat deposition, whereas low levels (especially during menopause) result in visceral fati  The accumulation of fat around the stomach, liver, and intestines, as well as other abdominal organs that can lead to a heart attack. accumulation, especially in the lower region (16).

Studies have shown that increased secretion of estrone, estradiol, and free estradiol are all associated with increased BMI in postmenopausal women (17).

The level of estrogen is negatively associated with total physical activity. The more physically active you are during menopause, the more you can control your weight gain (18).

6. Cortisol

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is mainly secreted when you are stressed, depressed, anxious, nervous, angry, physically injured, etc.

Consumption of foods with a high glycemic indexi  Foods are given a glycemic index score depending on how quickly and profoundly they can cause a spike in blood glucose levels. , chronic stress, and lack of sleep lead to an increase in cortisol production. A high cortisol level causes fat accumulation in the abdominal region. This vicious cycle is one of the major causes of weight gain (19), (20).

protip_icon Quick Tip
Listen to your favorite music regularly. According to a study, surgical patients who listened to instrumental music had lower cortisol levels than the control group (37).

7. Testosterone

Testosterone is a male sex hormone, but it is also secreted to a small extent by the ovaries in women.

Testosterone helps burn fat, strengthens bones and muscles, and improves libidoi  An individual's desire to engage in sexual activities. Conditions such as menopause, stress and pregnancy can affect it. (21). Insulin resistance due to increased adipose tissue leads to low circulation of the sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) (a protein that binds sex hormones). This causes a reduction in the testosterone level and an increase in fat accumulation (22). The excess secretion of testosterone in women causes polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which may lead to weight gain (23).

Lifestyle changes, testosterone therapy, and regular exercise can help maintain this hormone and lead to weight loss.

8. Progesterone

This female reproductive hormone helps maintain bodily functions and manage reproductive health.

Progesterone hormone levels drop during menopause, acute stress, and use of contraceptive pills.

A study conducted on hamsters found that a normal progesterone level helps lower fat mass (24).

Another study conducted on humans concluded that estrogen-progesterone therapy helps reduce abdominal fat accumulation, improves insulin sensitivity, and slows the progression of type-2 diabetes (25).

Regular exercise, stress management, and a healthy lifestyle can help regulate your progesterone levels and weight gain.

9. Melatonin

Melatoning which regulates the circadian rhythm may cause hormonal weight gain if its level is low
Image: Shutterstock

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland. It regulates the circadian rhythm, i.e., the sleeping and rising pattern. Melatonin levels in the body tend to rise from evening till late at night and ebb in the early morning (26).

Poor sleep quality or sleep deprivation lowers the melatonin level, which leads to lower physical activity, induces stress, and stimulates the production of cortisol (a stress hormone). This increases glucose metabolism and decreases the adiponectin level (a protein hormone that promotes fat breakdown), which causes weight gain (27), (28).

Low melatonin levels and poor sleep quality increase calorie intake at night, which is again related to weight gain and increased BMI (29).

10. Glucocorticoids

Glucocorticoids are steroid hormones that regulate insulin sensitivity and fatty acid synthesis. An imbalance in the glucocorticoid levels causes weight gain and insulin resistance.

A study conducted on rats found that the central administration of glucocorticoids increases food intake and body weight gain (30).

Now that you know which hormones trigger weight gain, let’s check out the symptoms that you need to look out for.

Symptoms Of Hormonal Weight Gain

Headache may be a symptom of hormonal weight gain
Image: Shutterstock

The most common symptom of hormonal imbalance is weight gain, which may lead to:

  • Lethargy
  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Headache
  • Depression
  • Indigestion
  • Change in appetite
  • Dry skin
  • Puffy face
  • Anxiety
  • Sexual dysfunction

So, consult a doctor if you face any of the above symptoms and go for a routine hormonal check-up for proper management.

Let’s answer another common question that people have about hormonal weight gain.

Does Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) Cause Weight Gain?

Woman looking at hormone replacement therapy medicines and wondering if they cause weight gain
Image: Shutterstock

Not all hormonal therapy leads to weight gain. Hormones that are steroidal in nature may cause central fat accumulation, but the evidence to support this is variable and not conclusive.

A study published in Fertility and Sterility found that postmenopausal women who were on estrogen and progestin treatment experienced an increase in body weight and fat mass to a small extent (31).

A few studies also state that continuous hormonal therapy does not cause any significant changes in weight (32), (33).

So, check with a doctor if you are experiencing weight gain. Getting a full profile hormonal test done periodically can help you control your weight.

Here’s what you can do to lose the weight caused by hormonal imbalance.

How To Lose Hormonal Weight Gain

Woman eating healthy food to reverse hormonal weight gain
Image: Shutterstock

The best way to control your hormonal imbalance is through regular check-ups, lifestyle management, and medication for the same. Here’s what you can do to control your weight at this time.

  • Get blood tests done if you are experiencing unwanted weight gain.
  • Avoid eating processed food, alcohol, late-night snacks, aerated and artificially sweetened drinks, etc.
  • Sleep properly and peacefully. Studies have shown that short sleep duration increases ghrelin and lowers leptin in the body, which results in weight gain (34).
  • Keep yourself hydrated to stay healthy.
  • Fill your plate with lots of fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fruits.
  • Exercise regularly and burn more calories.
  • Dedicate an hour every day to practice deep breathing, yoga, and meditation to reduce stress.

Leading a healthy lifestyle seems to help with hormonal weight gain. However, some wonder if intake of birth control pills causes weight gain. Learn further about it in the next section.

Do Birth Control Pills Cause Weight Gain?

Many people seem to struggle with weight fluctuations when taking birth control pills. Research shows that certain types of birth control pills, like progestin-only contraceptives, may lead to weight gain (35). While some studies show moderate to low weight gain, other multi-year studies suggest a higher weight gain after 2 to 3 years from taking the pill. In yet another study, oral contraceptives were found not to cause weight gain in girls below the age of 18, even if they were obese (36). Research in this regard seems to be mixed. Hence, consult your doctor for more information.

A blogger shared her struggle with hormonal imbalance after going off hormonal birth control pills. She wrote, “Not long after, a whole village of pimples decide to reside on my chin, my hair suddenly looked like Olivia Newton-John’s from “Grease,” my mood swings were harsh, my periods were excruciating, and my weight was all over the place (i).”

protip_icon Quick Tip
Additionally, give up smoking and reduce your caffeine consumption to keep your weight in check.

Hormonal imbalances can obstruct your weight loss journey. Hormones and weight gain share a direct connection as hormones are essential for the proper functioning of the body. Imbalanced hormone levels may lead to health complications, including unwanted weight gain. You may regulate your hormonal levels naturally by following a healthy, balanced diet and a disciplined exercise regimen. Keep an eye on your hormonal profile every three months to check if additional intervention is needed. Consult your health care provider if you are experiencing trouble losing weight despite adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get rid of hormonal belly fat?

If you have hormonal belly fat, get your insulin and steroid levels checked. Eat healthily, exercise regularly, and take proper medication if detected with any hormonal imbalance.

Which hormone helps you lose weight?

If you have proper control over the hunger-satiety hormones, i.e., ghrelin and leptin, you can maintain your weight easily.

Can I gain hormonal weight after age 50?

If you are going through menopause or are peri-menopausal, you gain can weight after 50. Estrogen is the hormone that regulates your weight at this time. Due to menopause, your estrogen level drops, which causes fat accumulation around your belly and lower abdomen.

What is the hormone reset diet?

The hormone reset diet aims to correct hormonal imbalances and reduce weight by eliminating meat, alcohol, gluten grains, high fructose fruits, and dairy products from one’s diet.

How do you check your hormone levels?

You can check your hormone levels through regular blood checkups.

Key Takeaways

  • Hormones like estrogen, testosterone, progesterone insulin, cortisol, melatonin, and ghrelin help balance weight gain.
  • Weight gain can cause you to become lethargic, tired, depressed, and anxious. They also result in headaches, indigestion, dry skin, puffy face, and sexual dysfunction.
  • Hormones can help regulate your weight and metabolism, and maintain your reproductive health. Hence, hormonal imbalances in your body occurring due to age, genetics, pregnancy, and menopause, can also lead to weight gain.
  • Eating healthy, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, and reducing stress can help balance hormone levels and reduce weight gain.

Feeling overwhelmed? Learn how stress, hormones, and weight gain are connected and how to manage them. Watch now and empower yourself with effective strategies!

Personal Experience: Source

References

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Madhu Sharma is a member of the National Executive Committee of IDA. She has been associated for almost three decades with Pediatric Nutrition at PGI while serving in the Gastroenterology Department (20 years) and then the Advanced Pediatric Center (10 yrs) at PGIMER, Chandigarh.

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