Hormones and Weight Loss - A Balancing Act
After making it through puberty, you may have breathed a sigh of relief. No longer would hormone hooligans play havoc with your bodily functions. Or would they?
If you paid attention in biology class, you probably learned that hormones play an active role every day of our lives. They function as messengers within our bodies, traveling through the bloodstream and barking orders at the brain, nervous system, reproductive system, kidneys, liver, and even our fat.
When they work as a team, hormones efficiently control and coordinate our bodily functions. Like any good team, however, hormones need proper management. A hormone imbalance can lead to conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis, infertility, and hypertension. Imbalanced hormones can also play a role in obesity. Recent studies have concluded that hormones can actively contribute to weight gain - and weight loss. Fortunately, there are methods that we can use to put the reigns on our wayward hormones. But, first, we need to find out exactly what we're dealing with.
A Who's Who of Hormones
There are a number of hormones that can affect our weight. They work to manipulate our metabolism, determine how our fat is stored, and control our cravings.
Estrogen and Testosterone
Estrogen and testosterone are more commonly known for influencing the development of physical traits that distinguish the female and the male genders, respectively, but these sex hormones also regulate fat storage. Estrogen promotes the storage of fat, while testosterone stimulates fat burning. "Estrogen dominance" occurs when the natural balance between estrogen and progesterone is disrupted. This phenomenon is often caused by high doses of synthetic estrogen.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck, behind the larynx. Of the several hormones the thyroid produces, two are intimately involved with our metabolic processes: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). When converted to T3, thyroxine increases the metabolic rate of our cells. In cases in which the production of these hormones is low, metabolic rates become sluggish.
At the onset of stress, cortisol is released by our adrenal gland to help us deal with whatever life or death situation we are in. It does this by stimulating the release of glucose and fat from the cells to ensure that we have a ready supply of energy to fight that dragon - or run away as fast as we can. It also stimulates our appetite to replenish the stores of energy we have used. However, when stress is mental rather than physical, this energy simply isn't needed. Adding more fuel to our body at this point is akin to "topping off" the gasoline in a car.
Leptin recently has been gaining more of the spotlight that had formerly been reserved for estrogen and the thyroid hormones as more is discovered about this important messenger hormone. Our fat cells dispatch leptin to tell the brain how much fat we have stored. A low level of leptin tells our brain that our body needs more food.
Taming the Wild Bunch
Now that we know what are up against, the next step is to implement changes to our lifestyle and eating habits that will allow us to have more control over our hormones' wild ways - and our waistline!
The foods we eat can have a positive or a negative impact on our hormonal health.
To stimulate a sluggish thyroid, Dr. Linda Page, author of Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone, recommends the consumption of iodine-rich sea vegetables like kelp.
Dr. Page also recommends eating cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, to help to curb excess estrogen by stimulating our estrogen metabolism.
As if we needed another reason to avoid this common sweetener, according to nutritionist Brenda Watson, author of The Fiber35 Diet: Nature's Weight Loss Secret, high-fructose corn syrup impairs our production of leptin.
Too much aerobic exercise can actually be counterproductive in our effort to lose weight, says Dr. Karlis Ullis, author of Hormone Revolution Weight-Loss Plan: A Natural Program to Lose Fat, Increase Muscle, and Boost Energy. According to Dr. Ullis, aerobic exercise, when performed to excess, can lower our testosterone levels. When our testosterone levels are low, we burn our calories from muscle rather than from fat. Weight-training, on the other hand, increases our testosterone levels, helping us to increase our muscle mass and burn more fat.
With Natural Stress-Relief
Yoga has long been considered a natural way to reduce stress. Practitioners of this ancient art can attest to its benefits, but it wasn't until the Center for Integrative Medicine of Thomas Jefferson University and the Yoga Research Society teamed up to study the effects of yoga on the endocrine system that there was clinical proof of its efficacy. Even in people who have never heard of Downward Facing Dog or the Sun Salutation, just one hour of classical yoga lowered their cortisol level.
While there is much that we can do to balance our own hormones, it is important to solicit the advice of a doctor before beginning any diet or exercise plan. A hormone imbalance can result in some very serious conditions. If you suspect that you may have a hormone imbalance, see your doctor right away. He or she can perform tests that will reveal what is really going on in your endocrine system.
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