The thyroid gland, when stimulated with Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) produces thyroid hormone in the form of the pro-hormone T4. T4 is converted into the active hormone, T3, in tissues throughout the body. Thyroid hormones help regulate your metabolism, working on essentially every cell, tissue and organ of your body. T3 affects growth, development and differentiation (maturation) of cells and affect protein, carbohydrate and fat metabolism, regulating how these cells use the energy stored in the cells. T3 also affects your body temperature.
Broadly speaking, the sex hormones include:
- Androgens such as testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
- Androgens are made in the male testes, the female ovaries and in the adrenal glands and affect male-specific development, though they function in females in increasing libido, energy, bone health and muscle strength. These androgens are also a source for making estrogens.
- Estrogens such as estradiol, estriol and estrone
- Estrogens are the main hormone responsible for regulating female-specific development and female sexual response and libido. Estrogens also increase fat storage, while accelerating metabolism
- Progesterone mainly affects the female reproductive organs such as the uterus, the vagina, the cervix, the breasts and the brain.
With the sex hormones, it is very often the balance of these hormones that is critical in weight gain—and in weight loss. For example:
- During menopause, many women have too much estrogen relative to the levels of progesterone—this is called estrogen dominance and can lead to weight gain.
- Decreases in testosterone levels that occur naturally with age can lead to weight gain, increased insulin resistance and an increase in body fat. These declines in testosterone (and DHEA) may be the reason so many have trouble losing weight as they age.
Glucagon and Insulin
Most people know that insulin helps regulate the level of blood sugar—and regulates how sugar is used by the body. Fewer people know about glucagon which can be thought of as the opposite of insulin. Glucagon takes stored carbohydrates (glycogen stores) and fats (in fat cells) and breaks them up for a useable energy source. Both glucagon release and increased insulin sensitivity (the opposite of the pre-diabetic state of insulin resistance) can be maximized by increasing high-quality proteins and complex carbohydrates in the diet.
Insulin, as mentioned, helps regulate the level of blood sugar—but this is the “readout” of insulin function—more specifically, insulin signals cells that sugar (glucose) is available for cellular energy needs and stimulates sugar uptake by the cells. Insulin functions to efficiently use—and store—all the forms of energy available in the body. It is the balance of the storage and the immediately usable forms of energy that insulin is responsible for. Insulin also:
- Increases the synthesis of fats and decreases the breakdown of fats
- Increases the synthesis of the storage form of glucose—as glycogen. Insulin also decreases the breakdown of glycogen—this makes sense because the presence of insulin is actually a signal that there is glucose in the blood—so now is a good time to keep those storage forms of energy (fats and glycogen) intact ready to be used when the levels of blood glucose are low.
- Decreases the breakdown of proteins and increases the transport of protein building blocks (amino acids) into the cells.
CCK (Cholecystokinin) is made in the small intestine—and is released when:
- There is an acidic environment from the stomach to the small intestine.
- Protein is present in the form of amino acids, protein “building blocks” and
- Fatty acids from fats in the diet
CCK plays many roles such as stimulating the release of bile from the gall bladder and as a neurotransmitter signaling satiety and anxiety. CCK slows down digestion while signaling a sense of “fullness” letting you feel full for a longer time.
Growth hormone (GH) has been in the news quite a bit, lately. While it may not be the “fountain of youth” that some proclaim it to be, it can help with losing those fat stores. GH stimulates growth and development and is also a stress hormone, increasing blood glucose levels and fatty acid levels. Overall, GH is considered an anabolic hormone—increasing muscle and bone mass. GH can, depending on the conditions (such as age, existing levels of GH, overall body fat etc) can either increase or decrease weight—and has been associated with some significant adverse side effects such as high cholesterol levels, nerve, muscle and joint pain, swelling and nerve problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome. GH also may increase the risk of diabetes.
Balancing Hormones for Weight Loss
Good news! Eating a high-quality protein meal (lean poultry, fish with occasional grass-fed red meats and frequent servings of high-protein beans and legumes, nuts and seeds), combined with complex carbohydrates (whole grain foods) along with lots of vegetables and fruit for their vitamins, minerals, high fiber and protein content (and low-fat content) can help re-balance your hormones. These, along with regular servings of healthy fats containing omega-3 fatty acids (fish, tofu, spinach, beans, walnuts, flaxseed and wild rice) as well as omega-9 rich olive oil will help as well.
Exercise can increase and balance ghrelin, epinephrine and growth hormone, while getting a good night’s rest can increase the effectiveness of growth hormone—and all the hormones, including the sex hormones. Leptin can be increased and become more efficient the more weight you lose—a sort of built-in reward system! Combine the healthy eating tips, exercise, enough sleep and enough water with stress management techniques such as meditation, prayer, relaxation and physical activity and you will be well on your way to a healthier—and leaner—life! Good health comes from daily decisions and YOU have the power to transform your health … ONE healthy choice at a time!