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Metabolic Sabotage: 4 Hormone Imbalances That Can Block Your Weight Loss Efforts
BY: DR. JULIE MILLER
Is your weight stuck even though you are eating a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis? If so, you’re not alone in your frustration. Although diet and exercise are essential elements of any weight loss strategy, many people find they are not enough to achieve successful and sustained fat loss. Weight loss is far more complex than looking at calories taken in versus calorie burned and is profoundly influenced by hormonal factors in the body. In this article, I will be discussing 4 common hormonal imbalances that not only thwart your weight loss goals but impact your overall wellbeing.
The main role of insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to a rise in blood sugar, is to allow your cells to use glucose as immediate energy or to store it for later. Consuming too many refined carbohydrates and sugars and insufficient protein, fat, and fiber along with chronic stress and lack of exercise can cause insulin levels to skyrocket. Not only does high insulin encourage the body to store unused glucose as fat, but it also blocks the use of stored fat as an energy source and over time leads to insulin resistance, a major risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. A healthy diet high in protein, good fats and fiber and lower in carbs, combined with regular strength training, is the best strategy to reduce insulin.
Any time our body is under stress, whether physical, mental, emotional, or environmental, cortisol is released from a pair of small glands that sit on top of the kidneys, called the adrenal glands. Cortisol is an essential hormone that helps us manage short term stress but chronically high levels due to unrelenting stress wreaks havoc on our metabolism by elevating blood sugar, breaking down muscle, boosting abdominal fat storage, interfering with thyroid hormones, disrupting sex hormones, and negatively impacting sleep and growth hormone production. Taking steps to reduce sources of stress and learning techniques to calm the body, such as deep abdominal breathing, can go a long way in supporting fat loss and optimal health. Vitamin C and B vitamins, especially B5, help support adrenal function and adaptogenic herbs such as holy basil and ashwagandha and have been shown to promote balanced cortisol levels.
Researchers have identified that for both men and women, excess estrogen is as significant a risk factor for obesity as lack of exercise and poor diet. Excess estrogen accumulates in the body either from increased production or exposure to estrogen-mimicking substances, called xenoestrogens, from our environment and food. These xenoestrogens include growth hormones, pesticides, herbicides, and plastics and a healthy liver and digestive tract are essential to detoxify excess estrogen from the body. In premenopausal women, excess estrogen contributes to weight accumulation around the hips and thighs as well as hormonal complaints such as PMS, heavy or painful menses, and ovarian cysts. Men with high estrogen often have low testosterone as well and struggle with low libido, depression, loss of muscle mass, and increased abdominal weight gain.
Low functioning thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is a very common cause of impaired metabolism and an inability to lose weight, especially in women. Thyroid hormones regulate our metabolic rate and influence every cell, tissue, and organ in the body and declining levels lead to dry skin and hair, constipation, irregular menses and infertility, cold intolerance, poor memory, depression, fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, and muscle and joint pain. Numerous factors can contribute to thyroid dysfunction including: gluten intolerance; excess consumption of soy-based foods; environmental toxicity from chemicals and heavy metals; nutrient deficiencies such as zinc, selenium, and iodine; and hormonal imbalances including excess cortisol and estrogen. In order to accurately assess your thyroid function, both symptoms and blood work measuring TSH, free T3, free T4 and thyroid antibodies should be considered.
When weight loss becomes a struggle despite your best efforts at healthy eating and exercise it is important to consider underlying hormonal imbalances. A naturopathic doctor can assist in the individualized assessment and treatment of these imbalances so that your metabolism can be restored and healthy fat loss achieved.
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