Updated: Jan 17, 2022
I frequently see cases of stubborn weight loss in the clinic. The frustration is apparent, especially since many of these individuals are trying to exercise and eat better. I really do empathize with these cases. Here are 4 hormones I would explore further:
Thyroid Hormones (blood test)
The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly and is located near your voice-box. When you think thyroid hormones, think metabolism. Simply put, metabolism is the conversion of molecules into energy at the cellular level.
Thyroid hormones control your metabolic rate, so if these active hormones are low, you will be fighting an uphill battle. Thyroid hormones are commonly tested by doctors such as myself, and a diagnosis of hypothyroidism can be made by looking at several biomarkers including T4 (the active thyroid hormone), TSH (sent from your brain to tell your body to make more thyroid hormones), and anti-TPO (potential auto-immune implications).
Signs of hypothyroidism include constipation, an intolerance to cold, hair coarseness, and fatigue. Thyroid disorders are quite common, affecting nearly 10% of Canadians over the age of 45.
Cortisol (salivary test)
Cortisol is commonly referred to as our "stress hormone" but in truth, it is an essential hormone that is very useful for short-term energy and keeping us awake during the daytime.
Small bursts of cortisol are completely normal and even required for our survival. This hormone gets a bad rap overall and is largely misunderstood. Your aim should not be to eliminate cortisol from your life, but merely to make it work for you instead of against you.
Problems arise with long-term elevation of cortisol due to unmitigated stress. This is when cortisol starts to influence fat cell formation and makes weight loss difficult until the root cause is addressed.
I believe that the body creates excess fat in response to high cortisol levels as a primitive defence mechanism. Fat is a stored source of energy and it can literally serve as a layer of protection for our organs. Long-term pain or illness, failing mental health, abusive relationships or even a stressful work environment can all contribute to high cortisol levels which can lead to unwanted weight gain.
Insulin (blood test)
Insulin is produced by the pancreas and helps us convert sugar into energy. Insulin is another essential hormone that has a bad reputation due to its association with diabetes. When insulin is utilized properly by the body, it helps us balance our blood sugar levels which has profound implications on our physical and mental wellbeing.
The reason many people develop Type II Diabetes is because their natural insulin is not being properly utilized by the body like it once was. This is likely due to decades of poor lifestyle choices including high sugar diets and lack of exercise.
If insulin (and insulin receptors) are not functioning properly, then the body will start to convert excess sugar into fat at a higher rate than normal. One of the best ways to improve insulin sensitivity is through regular exercise!
Like most hormones, balance is key. Too much or too little insulin are both undesirable.
Leptin and Ghrelin (blood test)
These two hormones are worth mentioning as a tandem because one increases your appetite, while the other helps keep it in check. Ghrelin, aka the hunger gremlin, is your hunger hormone. Leptin, on the other hand, is the hormone released by your body to give the signals that you are full and satiated.
Studies have shown that in overweight populations, ghrelin levels tend to remain high even after eating a meal. This is one of the reasons why it can be so difficult for some people to control their appetite and to lose weight; it's hormonal and not a simple matter of willpower. Conversely, ghrelin is theorized to be low in those with disordered eating and anorexia, and may be corrected using zinc supplementation.
Testing for these two hormones are rare and usually just seen in research because there are so many other ways to properly assess stubborn weight loss.
The good news is, it is never too late to make positive changes and good lifestyle habits affect multiple hormones at once. These good habits include regular exercise, proper nutrition, stress management, and a priority on sleep.
Book your initial consultation with me today to get the conversation going:
-Dr. Riley, ND