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Understanding the Basics of Hormones and Fat Loss

Updated on January 8, 2011

The subject of fat is a common topic these days, with the focus on how to lose it to look good and stay healthy.  Although sedentary lifestyles and modern diets filled with saturated fats and excessive sugars contribute to America's growing obesity problem, scientists have discovered a link between hormones and fat loss which can help explain the epidemic.

Our bodies are designed to produce fat cells up until puberty, at which point fat is added to existing cells.  While these fat stores once served as an energy source in times of prolonged periods without food, they can now remain as stored energy unless burned off through exercise.

So what hormones trigger the body to produce and store fat, and how can we manipulate this knowledge to our advantage?

A healthy body will use insulin to draw in a ready source of energy, glucose, for use during exercise and daily activities.  During the digestive process, insulin helps to transform fat molecules from food into fat cells.  In a diabetic, insulin is resisted by the cells, and eventually the body can no longer produce this hormone, resulting in excessive storage of glucose. 

Other hormones such as Leptin are considered fat controllers, communicating with the hypothalamus to tell the brain when to stop eating; the hormone Cortisol has a negative effect when released by fat cells for a prolonged period.  Triggered by physical or emotional stress, Cortisol can cause the body to store additional abdominal fat.

Cortisol is also released when the body undergoes intense physical exercise, responding to help repair muscle tissue after activities such as bodybuilding.  As with any other stressful activity, too much of this hormone can be released, causing over-training effects and leading to longer periods of recovery for the body. When not done to excess, intense exercise has a positive effect on the body, encouraging the release of testosterone and growth hormone.  Both hormones are considered beneficial for increasing lean body mass when released naturally by the body. 

To learn how to lose fat weight, we first learn how to encourage the body to use fat, or release fat reducing hormones.  In a highly trained individual, the body will look to use fat stores for energy as they are the most efficient, providing more than twice the amount of stored glucose. To train the body to use fat, working up to 60-90 minutes of steady state cardiovascular exercise, three to four times a week is recommended.

To encourage the natural production of testosterone and growth hormone, using bodybuilding protocols with free weights and/or machine resistance, and following a healthy diet is the preferred method.  In fact, a study involving men and growth hormone reported by Karlis Ullis, M.D. and Joshua Shackman, Ph.D., showed a significant decrease in body fat, and the combination of testosterone and IGF-1 was even more effective.  

Research continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of exercise and a healthy diet to encourage healthy hormone production, as fat cells only act in response to their messages. Instead of trying to lose weight in 2 weeks, check with your doctor, then get started on a healthy exercise and eating plan for life.  


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