Are you gaining weight even though you are eating healthily and exercising regularly? Are you finding it difficult to shed that stubborn fat? It’s time that you checked out your hormone levels.
Hormonal imbalance is one of the major causes of weight gain. Hormones play a big role in regulating metabolism, maintaining the body’s homeostasis ( a self-regulating process to balance bodily functions), reproductive health, and weight maintenance (1).
Women are more susceptible to hormonal imbalance and tend to gain more weight (2). So, which hormones are to blame?
In this article, we will discuss the hormones that are responsible for weight gain and how they control metabolism, hunger, and satiety. Keep reading!
Table Of Contents
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.
So, let’s find out which hormones cause weight gain.
Which Hormone Imbalances Trigger Weight Gain?
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).
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).
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.
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).
Both high and low levels of estrogen can lead to weight gain among women.
High levels of estrogen promote fat deposition, whereas low levels (especially during menopause) result in visceral fat 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).
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 index, 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).
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 libido (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).
Lifestyle changes, testosterone therapy, and regular exercise can help maintain this hormone and lead to weight loss.
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 (23).
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 (24).
Regular exercise, stress management, and a healthy lifestyle can help regulate your progesterone levels and weight gain.
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 (25).
Poor sleep quality 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 (26), (27).
Low melatonin levels and poor sleep quality increase calorie intake at night, which is again related to weight gain and increased BMI (28).
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 (29).
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
The most common symptom of hormonal imbalance is weight gain, which may lead to:
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Change in appetite
- Dry skin
- Puffy face
- 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?
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 (30).
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
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 (33).
- 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.
Hormonal imbalance can make it difficult to shed weight. Check with a doctor if you are finding it difficult to lose weight even after following a healthy lifestyle and diet.
To treat hormonal imbalance, it is advised to check your hormonal profile quarterly, lead a healthy lifestyle, and exercise to burn more calories.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ 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.
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- Sanyal, Debmalya, and Moutusi Raychaudhuri. “Hypothyroidism and obesity: An intriguing link.” Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism vol. 20,4 (2016): 554-7. doi:10.4103/2230-8210.183454
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