If you have been unable to lose weight, even with diet and exercise, your hormones are very likely the reason you have not been successful.
No matter how an imbalance manifests on the outside, the internal reality remains the same—any and all hormonal imbalance leads to difficulty losing weight and increased risk of obesity. Unfortunately, the most common imbalances cannot be solved by dieting alone. In fact, they can prevent successful fat loss, even when great diet and exercise plans are in place. If you have not been successful in the past, one or more of the following hormonal imbalances could be the culprit:
Inflammation: Digestive disorders, allergies, autoimmune disease, arthritis, asthma, eczema, acne, abdominal fat, headaches, depression and sinus disorders are all associated with chronic inflammation, which has recently become recognized as the root cause of obesity and unhealthy aging. At the 2007 Postgraduate Nutrition Symposium at Harvard University, researchers revealed findings suggesting that inflammation and excess insulin are the major contributors to rising rates of type 2 diabetes and the overall fattening of North America.
Insulin Excess: Insulin is an essential substance whose main function is to process sugar in the bloodstream and carry it into cells to be used as fuel or stored as fat. There are several reasons for excess insulin, but the main culprits are stress, consuming too much nutrient-poor carbohydrate—the type found in processed foods, sugary drinks and sodas, packaged low-fat foods and artificial sweeteners—insufficient protein intake, inadequate fat intake and deficient fibre consumption. Heart palpitations, sweating, poor concentration, weakness, anxiety, fogginess, fatigue, irritability or impaired thinking are common short-term side effects of high insulin. Unfortunately, our body typically responds to these unpleasant feelings by making us think we’re hungry, which in turn causes us to reach for more high-sugar foods and drinks. We then end up in a vicious cycle of hormonal imbalance, a condition called insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome, which only furthers weight gain and our risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Depression or Anxiety: Serotonin exerts powerful influence over mood, emotions, memory, cravings (especially for carbohydrates), self-esteem, pain tolerance, sleep habits, appetite, digestion and body temperature regulation. When we’re feeling down or depressed, we naturally crave more sugars and starches to stimulate the production of serotonin. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that depression and anxiety will soon be the number-one disability experienced by adults. For adequate serotonin production, all of the following are crucial: plenty of sunlight; a healthy diet rich in protein, minerals and vitamins; regular exercise and good sleep. When we measure our current lifestyle against all the elements necessary for the body’s natural production of serotonin, the wide-ranging epidemic of low serotonin is certainly not surprising. Add in chronic stress and out-of-control multitasking—two of the main causes of serotonin depletion—and it’s no wonder many of us suffer from depleted serotonin.
Chronic Stress: Under situations of chronic stress—whether the stress is physical, emotional, mental, environmental, real or imagined— our body releases high amounts of the hormone cortisol. If you suffer from a mood disorder such as anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder or exhaustion, or if you have a digestive issue such as irritable bowel syndrome, you can bet your body is cranking up your cortisol. Through a complicated network of hormonal interactions, prolonged stress results in a raging appetite, metabolic decline, belly fat and a loss of hard-won, metabolically active muscle tissue. In other words, chronic stress makes us soft, flabby and much older than we truly are!
Toxic Estrogen: Researchers have now identified excess estrogen to be as great a risk factor for obesity—in both sexes—as poor eating habits and lack of exercise. There are two ways to accumulate excess estrogen in the body: we either produce too much of it on our own or acquire it from our environment or diet. We are constantly exposed to estrogen-like compounds in foods that contain toxic pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones. A premenopausal woman with estrogen dominance will likely have PMS, too much body fat around the hips and difficulty losing weight. Menopausal women and, yes, men too, may experience low libido, memory loss, poor motivation, depression, loss of muscle mass and increased belly fat.
Menopause: According to projections by the government of Canada, 1 in 6 women will hit menopause within the next decade. Contrary to popular belief, menopause, which can begin as early as 40 years of age, is not just about estrogen decline. Supplies of other hormones such as progesterone, testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) also tend to dry up, right along with the skin, hair, eyes and libido. So many women come to my office intensely frustrated with the unwelcome changes in their body during this phase of life, especially an annoying thickening of the waistline. Other common symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, difficulty sleeping, headaches, heart palpitations, poor memory and concentration, urinary urgency or incontinence, vaginal dryness, changes in the appearance of skin and hair and emotional changes including depression, anxiety and irritability.
Low Testosterone: Testosterone enhances libido, bone density, muscle mass, strength, motivation, memory, fat burning and skin tone in both men and women. An increase of body fat and loss of muscle may happen, even with dieting and exercise, when testosterone is low. Testosterone levels tend to taper off with aging, obesity and stress, but today men are experiencing testosterone decline much earlier in life. This is quite an alarming finding, considering low testosterone has been linked to depression, obesity, osteoporosis, heart disease and even death. Dr. Mitchell Harman, an endocrinologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, blames the proliferation of endocrine-suppressing estrogen-like compounds used in pesticides and other farming chemicals for the downward trend in male testosterone levels. Phthalates, commonly found in cosmetics, soaps and most plastics, are another known cause of testosterone suppression.
Hypothyroidism: Without enough thyroid hormone, every system in the body slows down. Those who suffer from hypothyroidism feel tired, tend to sleep a lot, experience constipation and typically experience weight gain. Extremely dry skin, hair loss, slower mental processes, brittle hair, splitting nails, diminished ability to sweat during exercise, infertility, poor memory, depression, decreased libido, feeling cold or an inability to lose weight are also symptoms to watch for. If you suspect you have a thyroid condition, make sure your doctor assesses you and your full range of symptoms, not just your blood work. Even levels of TSH (an indicator of thyroid function) within the normal range have been proven to accelerate weight gain and to interfere with a healthy metabolic rate in both men and women.
If you don’t know whether your hormones are in balance or not, or if you may be experiencing one of the eight most common fat-packing hormonal imbalances, don’t worry; you will be able to assess whether one or more imbalance is influencing your health by taking my Hormonal Health Profile later on in this book.
Since hormones control our appetite and stimulate metabolism, achieving and maintaining hormonal balance plays an essential role in achieving lasting fat loss. Yes, diet and exercise are important. But the lasting solution must also include sleeping well, conquering inflammation, detoxification, optimizing digestion, limiting stress and introducing supplements or natural (bio-identical) hormone replacement. All of these factors influence our hormonal activity— and, ultimately, our weight-loss success—in truly dramatic ways.
Excerpted from The Supercharged Hormone Diet by Natasha Turner. Copyright © 2011 by Natasha Turner. Excerpted by Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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