5 Keys to Balance Fat Burning Hormones
Hormones play a critical role in the body’s biochemical processes dictating gender and affect human desires to socialize and maintain healthy relationships. They influence all aspects of health including aging, sexual development, immune response, growth, sleep, mood and even how our body responds to stress.
Given their complexity, it is no surprise that people who struggle with weight loss are unaware that their hormones may be the culprit. There are 5 fat burning hormones that play a critical role in regulating body weight. Read on to learn how they impact your ability to burn fat and how balancing these hormones can support your weight loss endeavors and improve your overall quality of life.
Fatty (adipose) tissue is responsible for the production of adiponectin and is released through insulin signaling pathways. Adiponectin has the ability to directly lower blood glucose levels, breakdown triglycerides and increase the oxidation of fat in various muscles and the liver. Studies show that the higher the levels of circulating adiponectin in an individual, the greater the weight loss potential. (13)
If you are struggling to burn fat and lose weight, it may be likely that your body is not producing enough of the hormone adiponectin. When a person consumes too many calories or a diet high in fats, specifically unhealthy fats like trans-fats, the ability to synthesize and secrete adiponectin is lowered due to insulin resistance. As a result, triglyceride levels remain elevated and muscles do not have the required energy to function optimally.
One of the best things for increasing adiponectin and enhancing metabolism is green tea. Drinking 1-2 cups of this organic matcha green tea daily is one of the best things for your metabolism, brain, circulatory system and immune system.
Ghrelin is involved in the gut-brain connection because it is primarily produced in the stomach and sends signals to the brain to control appetite. It is a major hormone involved in regulating metabolism and is also responsible for triggering human growth hormone secretion. Obese individuals have significantly reduced growth hormone secretion compared to individuals of normal weight (19).
Overproduction of ghrelin activates a series of events that cause temporary effects. Ghrelin triggers the emptying of stomach contents, notifies the brain of hunger and the need for more food intake, and it also increases fat accumulation by slowing down processes that breakdown stored fat. Research shows that ghrelin concentration is directly correlated to stomach size and can slow weight loss efforts in overweight and obese individuals. (13)
An imbalance in the hormone insulin is most often associated with diabetes but those who are not diabetic may also have difficultly controlling blood sugar levels. Insulin is secreted by the pancreas to help normalize blood glucose and officiates the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids and proteins in a range of tissues and organs. When adequate levels of glucose are provided, insulin can regulate energy for cells and promote muscular activity. (18)
However, repetitive spikes or extended periods of high insulin levels can ultimately lead to food cravings, metabolic syndromes and insulin resistance seen in type-2 diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s (5). Insulin resistance prevents glucose from being transported into cells, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels.
Excess glucose is rerouted into the body as a form of fat reserve which redirects energy that would predominantly be taken up by muscle. These physiological imbalances lead to reduced muscle growth, increased fat deposits and abnormal satiety and appetite responses that promote weight gain (18).
Leptin is referred to as the “satiety hormone” because it influences metabolism and controls appetite. It is often regarded as the hormone for treating obesity because it suppresses the desire for food intake and drives energy output. Leptin synthesis normalizes glucose and insulin levels, helps manage food intake and body weight, and also stabilizes endocrine hormones that can drive physiological imbalances that lead to weight gain. (13)
Leptin is also intricately involved with other fat burning hormones. A deficiency in leptin can stimulate a decrease in adiponectin and consequently result in increased fatty tissue. However, increased leptin in obese individuals is linked to a decrease in human growth hormone which suggests that these individuals have chronic inflammation that is impacting the leptin receptor and causing leptin resistance (14).
The more body fat one has, the more inflammation and leptin the fat tissue will produce. However, this hormone is also dependent upon other influences like gender, age, dietary habits and sleep cycles. (13) Following an anti-inflammatory diet and sleeping well is very important to optimizing leptin sensitivity.
Cortisol signaling is linked to many physiological processes in the body that increase one’s propensity toward weight gain. Chronic stress results in high levels of circulating cortisol which can turn off hormones that control appetite and weight gain (16). The overproduction of stress hormones like cortisol causes symptoms of fatigue and blood sugar imbalances that further creates dysfunction in the central nervous system. In turn, this leads to more addictive and unhealthy food cravings. (3)
The adrenal glands secrete cortisol which subsequently slows down the production of the hormone testosterone. When this happens over an extended duration, an individual can suffer from adrenal fatigue and they also are limited in their body’s ability to build muscle because of testosterone loss.
This creates a catabolic state, where the body tears down bone and muscle and stores fat. Reduced lean body tissue slows down the bodies overall metabolism and causes the body to hold on to more fat storage leading to elevated insulin and insulin resistance as well.
5 Action Steps for Hormone Balance
Weight gain may be the most noticeable concern for some, but it is certainly not the most severe symptom of hormone imbalance. Other symptoms include fatigue, depression, anxiety, decreased libido, and women may experience symptoms of PMS, infertility, have an irregular menstrual cycle or reach menopause early. More serious conditions that can result from hormone imbalances include autoimmune problems such as cancer, leaky gut syndrome, thyroid and degenerative brain disorders. (8, 9)
Take these 5 action steps to help manage your hormones naturally and take back control of your weight and health.
1) Great Hydration
Many symptoms of hormone imbalance alone can be significantly improved by simply ensuring that your body is well hydrated. When we allow our bodies to become deficient in water, cells shrink and the brain responds by sending hormonal signals anticipating the need for thirst to be quenched. Unfortunately, before we even perceive ourselves as feeling thirsty, the body is already dehydrated. Often this can cause us to reach to satisfy a salty food craving before we satisfy our thirst.
Optimal hydration is key to regulating osmotic processes in critical organs like the kidney and aids in eliminating stress hormones. Hormones require sufficient water intake to control homeostatic processes in the body such as blood pressure and sugar balance (10). Considering that the loss of only 2% of body fluid will adversely affect one’s exercise performance, maintaining great hydration is necessary for modulating hormone levels and reducing stress (11).
Strategies for Ensuring Optimal Hydration:
- Drink 32 ounces of water within the first hour of waking up followed by half of your body weight in ounces before noon and a gallon of water over the entire day
- Avoid caffeine and sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks
- Add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or use lemon/lime in your water to enhance anti-oxidant and enzyme levels
2) Healthy Diet
Maintaining gut health through diet is key in supporting weight loss. Bacteria reside along the gastrointestinal tract and communicate with the body by sensing hormones (4). Any disruption to the balance of gut bacteria increases stress on the body and increases the likelihood of malnutrition which can lead to unhealthy food cravings. A balanced diet consisting of a variety of fruits and vegetables and both probiotic and prebiotic foods ensures the necessary fiber, antioxidants and healthy bacteria to support gut health.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids helps stabilize blood sugar preventing spikes in insulin. Magnesium rich in dark leafy green vegetables helps naturally elevate adiponectin levels. These foods also contain nutrients that naturally elevate mood boosting hormones helping you steer clear of foods that provide only temporary satisfaction. Adaptogenic herbs can also improve mood, support mental performance, combat fatigue, and increase libido by regulating stress hormones. (5, 6, 7, 12)
Strategies for Improving Diet:
- Promote gut motility by consuming kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut and coconut water
- Include more fatty acid rich foods into your diet such as 100% grass-fed beef, coconut oil, wild-caught salmon and chia seeds
- Caffeine raises cortisol levels- curb back your intake and choose decaf
- Eliminate all processed sugars and refined foods
- Incorporate adaptogenic herbs to your diet including rhodiola, cordyceps, holy basil, and Siberian ginseng
- Up your intake of magnesium rich foods like avocados, almonds, pumpkin seeds, spinach and kale
3) Regular Movement
A significant stress reliever, exercise increases blood circulation enabling your body to better filter out stress hormones like cortisol from your system. Studies show that exercise has protective benefits against declining health because it combats stress, slows down the aging process and improves sleep habits (17). Moving regularly improves blood sugar balance by reducing circulating glucose levels in the blood.
This is one reason why people who participate in some form of activity following a meal have improved postprandial sugar levels. Give yourself 10 minutes before returning to work from your lunch break to take a lap around the parking lot or consider doing the dishes immediately following dinner instead of waiting until the following day.
Strategies for Moving Daily:
- Perform high intensity exercises by zoning in on specific muscle groups and elevating heart rate
- Enjoy low intensity exercises like swimming and walking
- Enjoy moving whether gardening or dancing
- Use resistant bands for low impact strength training
- Improve muscle tone and balance by learning tai chi or yoga
4) Good Sleep
Polls taken by The National Sleep Foundation indicate that 60% of people experience some form of sleep problem at night (2). The majority of those individuals report mood disturbances, and unhealthy changes in their family and social life. Sleep deprivation promotes the sustained higher levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. Individuals who receive both sufficient and quality hours of sleep have lowered stress hormones and a dramatic decrease in inflammatory agents circulating the body. (3)
In a study, a reduction in sleep was shown to cause a decrease in leptin, an increase in ghrelin, impaired glucose tolerance and increased hunger and appetite. Such data suggests that inadequate sleep in people of all ages may likely contribute to increasing obesity and type-2 diabetes. (15)
Strategies for Improving Sleep:
- Aim to sleep 7 to 9 hours
- Receive plenty of sunshine during day light hours
- Sleep in a dark and cool environment (between 60 and 65 degrees)
- Avoid all technological distractions no less than 1 hour before bed including phone, computer and television use
- Avoid caffeinated foods and beverages in the late afternoon and evening
- Avoid rigorous exercise in the evening
- Stick to a regular sleeping schedule focusing on falling asleep before 11pm.
- Use an eye mask to cover your eyes and maximize your melatonin secretions. This mask helps me tremendously.
- Download f.lux onto your computer, phone or device and wear blue light blocking glasses at night, this can help see a 70% increase in melatonin secretion before bed.
5) Reduce Stress
Incorporating adequate rest and relaxation into your daily life is critical to improving hormone balance. While we work endlessly to keep up with life’s regular demands, our bodies’ systems become strained and depleted of the energy to regulate physiological processes optimally.
Studies show that chronic stress significantly increases cortisol levels in the body which has been implicated as a cause of a pain, anxiety and disease. Stress also has been shown to trigger alterations to human growth hormone secretion, thyroid-stimulating hormone and testosterone. Following a short 4 month period of regular meditation practices, a group of individuals were shown to have improved hormone balance and a healthier response to stress. (1)
Strategies for Reducing Stress:
- Wind down with a calming Epsom salt bath
- Utilize the therapeutic potential of aromatherapy by inhaling essential oils like frankincense, chamomile and lavender
- Practice stress relaxation exercises daily including grounding, yoga, meditation, deep breathing and stretching
Do you believe you are doing everything right and still question why it is so difficult to lose weight? Functional Medicine looks to find the origin of the problem as opposed to only treating the symptoms. Such doctors empower patients by utilizing evidence-based functional medicine and educating individuals how to use the body’s natural healing potential to thrive and live a vital life.
Finding a functional health practitioner can help you learn which hormones may be out of balance in your body and identify ways to regulate those key fat burning hormones. He or she can show you how to correct the problem by personalizing a care plan that starts you on the path to weight loss and healing.
Sources for this Article Include:
- MacLean CR, et al. Effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on adaptive mechanisms: changes in hormone levels and responses to stress after 4 months of practice. Physchoneuroendocrinology. 1997 May; 22(4): 277-95. PMID: 9226731
- National Sleep Foundation: Annuel Sleep in America Poll Exploring Connections With Communications Technology Use and Sleep. Link Here
- Joo EY, Yoon CW, Koo DL, Kim D, Hong SB. Adverse Effects of 24 Hours of Sleep Deprivation on Cognition and Stress Hormones.Journal of Clinical Neurology (Seoul, Korea). 2012; 8(2):146-150. PMCID: 3391620
- Sandrini S, et al. Microbial endocrinology: host-bacteria communication within the gut microbiome. J Endocrinol. 2015 May; 225(2):R21-34. PMID: 25792117
- Apolinar, LM, et al. Role of prenatal undernutrition in the expression of serotonin, dopamine and leptin receptors in adult mice: Implications of food intake. Mol Med Rep. 2014 Feb; 9(2): 407-412. PMCID: 24337628
- Kwon, et al. health benefits of traditional corn, beans, and pumpkin: in vitro studies for hyperglycemia and hypertension management. J Med Food. 2007 Jun; 10(2):266-75. PMID: 17651062
- Panossian A, and Wikman G. Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity. Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Sep; 4(3): 198-219. PMID: 19500070
- Bremner JD. Traumatic stress: effects on the brain.Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 2006; 8(4):445-461. PMCID: 3181836
- Stojanovich L, and Marisavljevich D. Stress as a trigger of autoimmune disease. Autoimmun Rev. 2008 Jan; 7(3): 209-13. PMID: 18190880
- Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, Hydration and Health.Nutrition reviews. 2010; 68(8):439-458. 2908954