Welcome to the final article on my series of weight loss & cravings. I hope that you have found this information helpful and that you have attained a greater understanding of the complex dynamics behind the psychological and physiological drives to weight and appetite regulation.
Obesity has become an epidemic in our society. In his book, Ultra Metabolism, Dr. Mark Hyman stated that obesity will soon override cancer and cardiovascular disease as the number one cause of death in America. Why in a country with abundant food supply are so many gaining weight at such an accelerated rate?
In this series, I have discussed five of the top six physiological reasons for cravings and weight loss resistance. To review, they include:
1. Yeast overgrowth
2. Low serotonin or neurotransmitter imbalance
3. Mal-absorption (Leaky Gut) & nutritional deficiencies
4. Food allergies
6. Hormonal imbalances
This final article will discuss one of my favorite topics in connection to weight loss and cravings, hormonal imbalances.
Note: If you have missed my previous articles, they are all available under the “My comments section” of the weekly health feedbacks. Part III, which discussed parasitic infection, can be found here.
6. Hormonal Imbalances & Weight
The topic of hormonal imbalance and weight loss is quite hefty (no pun intendedJ). Most people hear the word “hormone” and think of the major reproductive sex hormones of estrogen and testosterone. However, hormones include many substances that don’t get the publicity of these two forerunners.
These other hormones have important functions in the body of regulating metabolism and other physiological drives.
For example, did you know that your brain produces a hormone, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which can regulate hunger? Or, that your fat cells make a hormone responsible for signaling to the brain your satiation point called leptin? Or, that your adrenal glands produce a stress hormone called cortisol, which increases blood sugar and insulin levels and can down regulate your sex hormones? An imbalance in any of these factors can cause your waist line to increase along with your cravings and appetite.
Healthy Fats for Healthy Brain-Gut Communication
Let’s start with the appetite feedback signals to your brain. Remember that low-fat diet crave in the 1980’s? Not good. You need cholesterol in your body to produce all the sex hormones, fat soluble vitamins, and to coat the cell membranes of every cell in your body. Eating low fat and processed hydrogenated oils actually clogs the receptor sites of your cell membranes, causing feedback from hormonal signals to go unnoticed. Think of it as a miscommunication between your gut, brain, and nervous system. Also, eating trans-fats increases inflammatory cytokine release from your fat cells. The result is even more signals present in your bloodstream for the brain to try to de-code in an already unreadable vegetable soup.
Therefore, it’s important for your brain and body to eat the right kinds of healthy fat to produce a proper balance of sex hormones and other gene modulating expressive factors, such as vitamin D. These healthy fats actually teach your body to turn on the fat burning gene by interacting with the ppr receptor on fat cells. Examples of healthy fats are omega 3 fatty acids found in high quality supplements or wild, fresh small fish, such as salmon.
Sex Hormone Imbalances & Weight
Most women can attest that as hormones shift during their menses cycle, so does their cravings and weight. One reason for this is that estrogen has been found to interact with serotonin receptors in the brain which act to modulate cravings and mood. Also, in an estrogen dominant pattern, estrogen can bind to thyroid hormone binding globulin which results in a down regulation of metabolism. Furthermore, women and men can suffer from low testosterone which is important for maintaining lean body mass and a healthy libido.
Hormonal imbalances are one of my specialties and I have seen many women in my clinic with an “estrogen dominant” pattern. The causes of this condition can be due to increased xenoestrogens found in food, personal care products, and the environment. It can also be due to improper liver functioning, nutrient deficiencies, or insulin resistance. So, how do you know?
In cases of complex hormonal imbalances, it’s important to have a knowledgeable practitioner measure how your hormones are functioning. This can be done through some simple lab tests and a detailed clinical history. However, make sure your practitioner is trained in reading sub-clinical symptoms and lab values or your results maybe labeled as “normal” due to the absence of a disease. However, the absence of a disease does not mean your hormones are functioning at optimal level. Your practitioner can help you de-code the best protocol for you to assist your body in re-balancing your hormones.
Insulin and stress
Our bodies are simply not designed to withstand this chronic stress that our whole society is under. Chronic stress increases stress hormone release from your adrenal glands which can cause an increase in weight and cravings for sugar. For more information on the stress response and insulin resistance see my article on Stress, Sugar, & Overall Health.
A Final Thought: It’s not how much we eat, it’s what we eat.
The old adage of calories in to calories out to balance weight is simply outdated. Science now has evolved to explain that hormones and biochemistry are much stronger predictors of weight than calorie counting. Excessive calorie restriction can actually turn on your starvation genes and cause you to become weight loss resistant!
Therefore, the answer has to do not with how much we are eating, but what we are eating. Processed and refined foods contain chemicals that trigger our bodies to down-regulate our hormonal feedback from the gut to the brain, increase insulin resistance resulting in blood sugar elevation, and therefore keep your appetite high and your absorption of nutrients low. I discussed the importance of healthy fats in your diet, but it’s also important to eat as many whole, unprocessed, unrefined foods as possible.
Real foods give your body the opportunity to provide proper feedback to the brain-gut-nervous system, correct nutritional deficiencies (which can cause cravings), and provide raw materials to boost your immune response and heal your gut.
Some examples of fat burning booster exchanges are: eating whole fruits instead of canned or frozen, eating whole grains rather than packaged breads, and eating a low glycemic load diet. A low glycemic load diet means choosing carbohydrates from plant sources (nuts, seeds, vegetables) which contain fiber that balances blood sugar.
If all this seems overwhelming, take baby steps and find a practitioner that can support you in this transition and provide additional tips for a healthier, hormonally balanced you!
My best to all of you,
The Real Reason for the French Paradigm of Weight Loss: Link
Dr. Mark Hyman, Ultra-Metabolism
Marcelle Pick, OBGYN NP: How Lifestyle Affects your Weight
Rebecca Murray: Insulin Resistance
Dr. Diana Schwarzbein: Insulin Resistance & Adrenal Burnout
Bruce Lipton, PhD: The Aware Show
Dr. Jade & Cinone Teta: Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss
Dr. D’Adamo, Genotype Diet
American Heart Association. Sept 2009 : sulfurophane in broccoli activates NrF2 in genes to decrease inflammation via P38-VCAM-1- signal
Estrogen and Cortisol: PMID: 19185443, PMID: 19010617
Estrogen and Serotonin: PMID: 19049819, PMID: 19046994
Progesterone and Mood: PMID:16724185