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Good Hormones Behaving Badly

Updated on June 1, 2010
Maintaining your weight keeps your hormones under control.
Maintaining your weight keeps your hormones under control.

When you think about over-active hormones, the image of a teenager with acne may come to mind.  But, what about us adults?  It may be alarming to learn that our hormones may be contributing to weight gain.  We have evolved from times of neediness for food to times of great abundance.  However, our hormones have been slow to respond in this evolution.  So, our bodies are still programmed to store fat in case of famine. 

Many hormones contribute to weight regulation.  First, let’s examine two that reside in your fat cells:  leptin and adiponectin.  Leptin provides information about how much energy is stored in the body’s fat cells.  When a fat cell decreases in size, leptin levels decrease, which sends a message to the brain that you need to eat.  This presents a challenge for those who are trying to lose weight!  You exercise and eat less to get your fat cells to shrink, yet your brain says, “Eat!”  Consuming fat in your diet results in low leptin levels, which may lead to overeating and weight gain.  Some healthy fats (like olive oil) are recommended in your diet.  However, many Americans consume much more than the recommended amounts of fat. 

Adiponectin is also secreted by fat cells and is known as the “good guy” hormone.  It reduces cellular inflammation, decreases blood levels of triglycerides, and improves HDL cholesterol.  However, overweight individuals typically have lower levels of adiponectin.

The next two hormones: Grehlin and Peptide YY, are known as “gut hormones.”  Grehlin is secreted by the stomach and tells you when to eat and when to stop eating.  When obese individuals lose weight, this often results in an elevation of grehlin, which promotes food intake.  This may be another reason why it is difficult to maintain weight loss.  Additionally, it appears that food does not suppress grehlin levels in obese individuals, again contributing to overeating.

Peptide YY is released from the intestines to signal the feeling of fullness.  It is one of several that tells you to stop eating.  It is slow to respond, but is stimulated by fats and carbohydrates.

So, how do we deal with our good hormones behaving badly?  We must change our lifestyle to allow for our bodies to regulate themselves.  A 5-10% reduction in weight can significantly improve health.  Eat 500 calories less per day and consume 20-30 grams of fiber daily to start losing weight.  Get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.  Sleep 8 hours per night.  And, most of all, plan ahead!


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