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Hormones play a vital role in the body’s regulation of weight and appetite.
Those that are seeing their weight plateau despite their best efforts at healthy eating and exercise may be experiencing an imbalance of these hormones. Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks to restoring this balance and, as a result, promoting the weight loss boost you’re looking for.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the hormones involved in weight regulation.
Cholecystokinin, commonly known as CCK, is a satiety hormone that helps your body recognize when it is full, thus regulating your intake.
CCK levels can be regulated through diet modification. Consuming a diet rich in the following items can help increase circulating CCK levels:
Cortisol is more commonly thought of in relation to its role in the stress response than in weight regulation. Although it is released during periods of stress, chronically elevated cortisol levels are linked to excessive eating and weight gain.
Interestingly, body composition may also play a role in cortisol release resulting from stress. Apple-shaped women have demonstrated higher cortisol release in response to stress as compared with individuals with lower amounts of abdominal fat.
Even more interesting, it seems that following a calorie-restricted diet can result in increased cortisol levels.
Below are a few suggestions to help keep your cortisol levels down:
- Control stress – This may be accomplished through meditating, listening to music, or taking a long bubble bath. As outlined above, reducing stress is a key way to reduce your cortisol levels.
- Adjust your diet – For those seeking to lose weight, it’s important to evaluate the diet modifications you’re making. Because low-calorie diets can raise cortisol levels and be counterproductive to weight loss, you should consider sticking to a reasonable calorie amount and focusing on healthy, nutrient-dense foods.
- Get adequate sleep – One study identified a relationship between reduced sleep times and increased cortisol levels.
Estrogen is widely known for its role as the female sex hormone, helping to regulate the reproductive system. A primary function of estrogen is to promote fat storage beginning at puberty in order to maintain fertility.
Abnormal estrogen levels, both high and low, can result in weight gain. High estrogen levels are thought to facilitate excessive fat storage. Conversely, low estrogen levels, as seen in post-menopausal women, are associated with weight gain as well as a shift in the location of fat storage from the hips and thighs to the abdomen. This increase in abdominal fat is also associated with insulin resistance.
Here are a few ways to help regulate your estrogen levels:
- Modify your diet – Consuming a diet rich in fiber and cruciferous vegetables and low in fat can help keep estrogen levels at optimal levels. Flax seeds also appear to have a positive impact on estrogen levels in women.
- Exercise – Research has demonstrated a positive impact of exercise on estrogen levels in women. Weight loss, which often goes hand in hand with exercise, has also proven beneficial in relation to estrogen regulation.
Surely everyone has heard of insulin, but you may not have known that it has a role in weight regulation.
Insulin is a hormone that is produced within the pancreas and is released gradually throughout the day as well as after meals. It helps with the metabolism of carbohydrates, taking sugar from the bloodstream and using it for energy or transferring it into storage. It also helps regulate the storage of fat.
Chronic elevation in circulating insulin levels, which occurs in diabetics and others with insulin resistance, can lead to many chronic conditions including obesity.
Here are some ways to help regulate your insulin levels:
- Minimize added sugars in your diet – Many studies have shown that excessive sugar intake is associated with insulin resistance and high circulating insulin levels.
- Reduce overall carbohydrate intake – For those with diabetes or insulin resistance, consuming fewer carbohydrates can help control insulin levels.
- Fill your diet with protein and healthy fats – Consuming a diet rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids can help lower circulating insulin levels.
- Exercise – Daily exercise, with or without diet modification, has been associated with improved insulin resistance.
- Drink green tea – Studies have shown a positive effect of green tea on insulin resistance and GLP-1 levels in diabetic patients with lipid abnormalities.
Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone. Ghrelin tells the brain when you need to eat, resulting in feelings of hunger.
Ghrelin levels are generally highest prior to eating and lowest following meals. However, this isn’t the case in obese individuals. In those that are overweight and obese, fasting ghrelin levels are lower and postprandial levels higher than in normal-weight individuals.
Here are a few tips to help improve ghrelin levels:
- Cut back on sugar – Studies have shown that intake of sugar-rich foods and beverages can inhibit ghrelin’s response to meals.
- Focus on protein – Consuming high-protein meals helps regulate ghrelin levels, keeping you feeling full for longer periods of time.
Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 (GLP-1)
Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) is released in response to nutrients entering the GI tract. It plays a crucial role in the weight loss picture, signaling to the brain that you are getting full.
In healthy subjects infused with GLP-1, researchers noted increased satiety and reduced meal intake as compared with placebo recipients.
Suggestions for keeping GLP-1 levels up include:
- Diet modification – Eating ample high-protein foods and leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, can help increase GLP-1 levels and keep you feeling full according to research. Because chronic inflammation can result in reduced GLP-1 secretion, consuming antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory in nature can also help regulate GLP-1 levels.
- Probiotic supplementation – In mouse models, probiotics have proven successful in stimulating the production and release of GLP-1 as well as regulating weight and improving glucose tolerance.
Leptin plays a critical role in the weight loss picture. Working opposite ghrelin, this hormone functions as a fullness hormone, regulating your appetite by telling your brain when you feel full in order to prevent overeating.
Studies have demonstrated increased circulating leptin levels in overweight and obese individuals. Unfortunately, leptin resistance is common in this population, meaning that the hormone may not successfully regulate appetite in these individuals.
Leptin levels also decrease during weight loss, which is part of why you feel like you’re starving during periods of calorie restriction. This plays a vital role in the maintenance of weight loss.
Interestingly, there is a relationship between leptin and insulin, with insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia serving as a precursor to leptin resistance. Leptin resistance may also result from chronic inflammation.
Here are some suggestions for regulating leptin levels and improving leptin sensitivity:
- Avoid foods that cause inflammation, particularly those high in added sugars and trans fats. Instead, focus on anti-inflammatory foods such as fatty fish and avocados.
- Exercise – Studies have shown that exercise may help combat leptin resistance.
- Get adequate sleep – Research has demonstrated a relationship between sleep duration and leptin levels. When you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels decrease, resulting in an increase in appetite.
- Fatty acid supplementation – Supplementing alpha-lipoic acid and fish oil may help reduce leptin levels.
Neuropeptide Y (NPY)
Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a hormone that stimulates appetite and hunger. It is generally highest during fasting periods, although levels can also be elevated during times of stress.
Ways to lower NPY levels include:
- Diet modification – Research suggests that eating a diet rich in protein and soluble fiber can help reduce circulating NPY levels.
- Limit fasting periods – Because NPY increases during times of prolonged fasting, limiting fasting periods can help regulate NPY levels. NPY levels have been shown to increase significantly following a 24 hour fast, with even more pronounced increases seen following 48- and 96-hour fasts.
Peptide YY (PYY)
Similar to the other hormones listed, Peptide YY (PYY) impacts weight by helping to regulate your appetite. It is released by intestinal cells in response to food intake and is felt to play a critical role in appetite regulation and obesity.
As with the other hormones, PYY can be regulated through diet modification. The following nutrients have been associated with increased PYY levels:
- Carbohydrate-restrictive diet – High-carbohydrate diets have been associated with a PYY peak approximately 30 minutes after meal consumption followed by a significant decrease. Moderate carbohydrate intake and resultant blood sugar stabilization result in a stable PYY increase.
I’m sure you’ve noticed some common themes among these weight-regulating hormones. They play similar roles within the body and, as a result, are regulated in similar ways.
As a general rule of thumb, making these diet and lifestyle changes can help restore balance to these critical hormones and help support weight loss:
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a diet that is rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Keep refined sugars to a minimum and avoid excessive carbohydrate intake.
- Regulate stress
As you can see, these hormones all work together to form a critical piece of the weight loss puzzle. Abnormalities or imbalances may cause irregularities in appetite and stunted weight loss.
But fortunately, there are ways to help regulate these hormones. Following general healthful practices including adhering to a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and controlling stress can help keep these hormones in check.
Adopting these practices in addition to your other weight loss efforts should help keep that weight loss coming!
Kristin is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician based in Virginia Beach, VA. She received her Bachelor of Science from Ball State University, followed by the completion of a clinically-focused dietetic internship at West Virginia University. She has also recently completed her Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition from Eastern Michigan University, further expanding her knowledge and skills in the field of nutrition and health. She is currently practicing full time as a Nutrition Support Dietitian for Option Care Health, a lead home infusion provider across the United States, and an advisor for Exercise With Style.