Health Column: Hormones that take off the pounds
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The frustration of not losing weight despite eating right and exercising is often related to hormone imbalances. Last week I wrote about hormones that cause weight gain. Now let’s consider several hormones that can you help lose weight. Some of them increase metabolism, some build muscle, while others lower appetite and cravings plus stimulate the breakdown of fat.
Thyroid hormone is our main metabolic hormone, directly increasing the burning of calories. It increases the body temperature and overall energy. Thyroid helps our fuel (food) burn more efficiently and will improve cholesterol and blood sugar metabolism. Thyroid sensitizes other hormone receptors so they operate better. Optimizing thyroid is similar to turning up the furnace or tuning an engine — the body simply operates better.
Glucagon, from the pancreas, is the opposite of insulin and works to release fat and glucose from storage to be used as fuel. Protein intake will increase glucagon while high blood sugar and high insulin levels will turn down glucagon production.
Many women are progesterone deficient and have heavy, estrogen-dominant menstrual cycles coupled with PMS for several weeks when their estrogen is not balanced with enough progesterone. Aside from weight gain caused by estrogen dominance, the low progesterone encourages weight gain as progesterone supports thyroid while increasing body temperature and metabolism.
Androgen hormones such as testosterone and DHEA build muscle and break down fat. They directly turn on DNA to make protein and build structure such as muscle and bone. They also “kick-start” enzymes that break down fat. The fat accumulation around the belly of aging men and women (over 40) is partly due to declining levels of these androgen hormones.
Growth hormone is touted as the “mother of anti-aging” hormones since it has so many benefits that promote health and slow aging. Made by the liver, it too will build muscle and bone while breaking down fat.
These hormones are all “anabolic,” which means they build tissue. Unlike the synthetic anabolic hormones abused by sports stars, these natural anabolic hormones promote strong healthy bodies. Unfortunately they normally decline with aging such that by age 50-60 most of us are starting to show the signs of their disappearance.
LOWER APPETITE & CRAVINGS
Leptin is a fascinating hormone that was only discovered in 1994 and since then has generated much interest in the area of weight loss. Leptin is made by fat cells and will signal the brain to lower our appetite and increase metabolism. Leptin increases with weight gain, which sounds good; but similar to insulin, as we gain weight and make more leptin, we become more and more resistant to its beneficial effects. When I treat someone with insulin resistance I just assume they have leptin resistance as well and treat both.
Several hormones affect our mood, sleep, and appetite. The key players are melatonin (sleep), serotonin (mood), dopamine (pleasure), and GABA (mood). Melatonin is our main nighttime hormone, helping to promote restful sleep and the production of other hormones such as thyroid and growth hormone. Melatonin levels decline by age 45-50 and many people start having sleep disturbances around this age.
Serotonin deficiency is the cause of low mood and certain foods such as sugar and high-glycemic foods will temporarily stimulate serotonin. Dopamine is our pleasure hormone being associated with cravings, appetite and activities such as sex. Stimulant drugs increase dopamine and lead to the “high” associated with them. GABA influences mood by calming the brain, balancing the effects of dopamine and serotonin, thus promoting restful sleep and a calm controlled mood. Proper support of this family of hormones will support controlled appetite and cravings.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Restful sleep has so many benefits on natural hormone production that perhaps it is our most important strategy to successful weight loss. During deep sleep we make more anabolic hormones and more leptin. Melatonin is part of the normal sleep cycle and is promoted by absolute darkness, quiet, and cooler temperatures.
Regular exercise is another way to increase anabolic hormone production and improve insulin and leptin sensitivity so that each works properly. A combination of aerobic (walking, etc.) and anaerobic (strength training) is ideal. Peak intensity training, also called interval or burst training, to threshold will maximize growth hormone output.
Diet plays a major role in more than just the amount of calories consumed. The proper balance of proteins and carbohydrates is essential. The protein stimulates glucagon production and provides the amino acids necessary to make serotonin, dopamine and GABA. Protein is also necessary for good muscle development. Including anti-inflammatory fats (omega-3) is also important as fats do not stimulate insulin and help provide a long lasting energy source. Eliminating sugar and limiting high-glycemic foods and inflammatory fats (saturated, red meat) will help. Avoid high-fructose energy drinks.
We recommend many natural supplements to help with hormone production. 5-HTP will help serotonin, tyrosine will increase dopamine, and GABA supplements can be taken directly. Irvingia (from life extension) is derived from the African Bush Mango and is a great product that helps increase leptin sensitivity. These are just a few of the dozens of natural supplements that can help manage weight.
Recognizing the underlying issue and treating the root cause will cure most thyroid and progesterone imbalances. At some point direct hormone replacement is indicated for the normal age-related decline in hormones.
Simply telling patients to “watch what you eat and exercise more” is not good enough. Addressing hormone imbalances is usually a necessary part of successful weight loss.
Free Press health columnist Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.
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