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Weight-loss Hormones: Part 1

Research has revealed that several different hormones can impact your weight and this is not surprising to most women. Women have known for years that their weight can fluctuate with their monthly cycles while many men have noticed that their weight is much harder to control as their testosterone levels decrease.

What are the most important hormones for weight loss


Cortisol—produced by the adrenal glands—is an important hormone for weight control, though its primary function is considered to be much broader. Cortisol is a steroid hormone (a glucocorticoid) that regulates blood sugar levels, the immune system, inflammation, salt and water balance, blood pressure and overall metabolism. Cortisol is under a diurnal rhythm—it increases in the pre-dawn and dawn hours and then decreases during the evening hours. It is controlled via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The hypothalamus and pituitary glands (located deep within the brain) release corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) respectively—when the adrenal gland senses higher levels of ACTH, it is stimulated to produce cortisol—and when cortisol levels are high, these levels inhibit the production of CRH and ACTH—leading to what is known as a negative feedback loop.

High cortisol levels can be induced by stress of any kind—physical, mental or emotional. Night shift workers also tend to have higher levels of cortisol. The signs and symptoms of chronically increased cortisol levels include:

  • Weight gain, especially in the abdomen, face and chest areas
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Areas of the skin which may appear bruised or covered in purplish marks or streaks
  • Mood swings
  • Increased thirst
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Muscle weakness


Ghrelin is an oddly named—but important—hormone that is known as the “hunger hormone”. It is produced in the digestive system and, among other things, stimulates the urge to eat. Ghrelin increases fat cell production, decreases thermogenesis (the production of heat) and decreases the secretion of insulin as well as affecting bone formation and muscle function. Ghrelin levels can increase with loss of sleep. One practical effect of this is that if you don’t get enough sleep (and rest and relaxation), the increased levels of ghrelin make you hungry more often, which makes it that much more difficult to lose weight!


Leptin can be thought of as ghrelin’s opposite— Leptin is released from fat cells and decreases hunger. Leptin also signals the brain that its time to burn those stored-up calories (remember, energy is stored by the body as fat in the fat cells). You will notice that leptin is stored and released from fat cells—and the more fat cells you have, the more leptin is released. This may be part of the reason that it can be so hard to lose weight the heavier you are—with high levels of leptin, the body can develop “leptin resistance” that is similar in many ways to the pre-diabetic state of insulin resistance. Just as in insulin resistance where the cells do not respond to the insulin signal, in leptin resistance, the cells do not respond to the leptin signal—and will not respond by decreasing hunger. This leptin resistance can be overcome, however—by getting enough sleep. Once you start losing some weight—and this is important to keep in mind—any leptin resistance begins to decrease and the sensitivity to the effects of leptin begin to increase! This is nature’s gift—the more weight you lose, the more sensitive your body will be to the effects of both leptin and ghrelin!


Adiponectin is also produced and released from fat cells but is significantly lower in those people with a lot of centrally located fat—this is belly fat (also known as visceral fat). Lowered levels of adiponectin are found in overweight and obese individuals—and these lowered levels are associated with insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Adiponectin can be increased by an increase in omega-3 fatty acids, anti-oxidants and by losing weight. Increased physical exercise can also increase the levels of adiponectin.


Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline and is produced by the adrenal glands just like cortisol. However, epinephrine is produced in the central area of the adrenal glands (medulla) as opposed to cortisol, which is produced in the outer area of the adrenal glands (cortex). Epinephrine increases heart rate while strengthening the force of the heart’s beat, increases blood pressure, opens up the lungs and can affect memory and mood. It is released in response to stress such as anger, fear or any sort of danger. Long-term stress—and long-term increases in epinephrine can alter metabolism and potentially lead to high blood pressure, obesity, depression, anxiety, heart disease, digestive problems, sleep problems and problems with memory and concentration.

Controlling the Weight Hormones

Controlling and re-balancing the hormones involved in weight control is not always easy—the effects of long-term problems such as stress can take a while to get a handle on. However, you can start the work right now, by eating well, keeping hydrated and getting enough sleep, rest, relaxation and exercise. Why? Because a healthy diet, good hydration, adequate sleep and regular moderate exercise all help reduce the effects of chronic stress, which is most commonly the underlying cause of any difficulties in managing weight.

To help “set the stage” for losing weight by balancing hormones, drink plenty of water, consume more vegetables, get some daily exercise, a goodnights sleep and rest, relax or meditate for a few minutes each day. Remember, YOU have the power to transform your health … ONE healthy choice at a time!

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