Did you know that many of our hormones are influenced by fat cells? Scientifically known as adipose tissue, fat cells are not only a site of storage for excess energy but they also operate as an active endocrine organ. Adipose tissue functions in energy expenditure, appetite control, glucose homeostasis, insulin sensitivity, inflammation, and tissue repair, and are intricately involved in the storage and secretion of sex hormones. When approaching weight loss, balancing sex hormones may be a key intervention to be addressed. Read on to learn how to balance hormones for weight loss from our dietician, Dr. Katie Chapman.
What are the major sex hormones?
Known as the “female sex hormone”, estrogens are responsible for developing and regulating the female reproductive system, menstruation, and pregnancy (Estrogen 2022). In males, estrogen is important in balancing testosterone for the production of sex drive, erectile function, and sperm production (Schulster et al 2016). Estradiol is the primary form of estrogen throughout the body. Estrogens and estrogen receptors play a role in glucose and lipid metabolism (Carlson et al 2012). Overall, estrogen is typically increased in those with obesity (Mair et al 2020), but low levels may also affect weight gain, weight maintenance, and overall aging. In fact, the loss of estrogen after menopause in women may contribute to increasing overall adipose tissue mass (Leeners et al 2017). Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) binds to estrogens in the blood, decreases with increased weight, and then serves to amplify the effects of excess estrogen. SHBG also binds to testosterone in the blood and decreases its activity (Carlson et al 2012).
In females, progesterone works to thicken the uterine lining to accept a fertilized egg. Progesterone in males assists in the production of testosterone and influences sperm production. Progesterone is linked with increased eating during the menstrual cycle, but the exact link with this is unknown. Progestins may increase binge eating and eating stimulated by negative emotional states during the menstrual cycle as well (Leeners et al 2017).
Known as the “male sex hormone”, testosterone regulates sex drive, bone mass, fat distribution, muscle mass and strength, and the production of red blood cells and sperm. It is found to be decreased in males with obesity due to decreased metabolism and a reduction in lean muscle mass (Kelly & Jones 2015). In females, testosterone promotes healthy bone function, maintains sex drive, and regulates mood. Testosterone may be increased in women with obesity and is related to the presence of polycystic ovarian syndrome (Legro et al 2010).
How are these hormones connected to weight?
Estrogen and progesterone work together in the body as a yin-yang system, specifically during the menstrual cycle. When one is high, the other is low, and vice versa. However, when this cycle is disrupted it may lead to hormonal imbalance, changes in the menstrual cycle, and infertility. Progesterone and estrogen also help to regulate neurotransmitters involved in our sleep/wake cycle. Short sleep duration is associated with increased BMI in children and adults (Cappuccio et al 2008). Low amounts of sleep increase the amount of cortisol the body produces and may further interrupt the yin-yang cycle of estrogen and progesterone in the body. Furthermore, altered circadian rhythms increase the risk of obesity (Engin 2017).
Some hormones are stored in adipose cells and then secreted based on the body’s endocrine signaling system. Adipose tissue is the primary source of storage and circulating estrogen levels in postmenopausal women and men (Bhardwaj et al 2019). With increased adipose tissue, sex hormone levels can be disrupted. Additionally, leptin (the appetite-regulating hormone) is synthesized in adipose tissue and can make hunger/fullness signals ineffective (Salem 2021).
Insulin is another hormone of note for its impact on sex hormones and their functioning. Insulin stimulates androgen production in the ovary (Haffner 1996). Ovarian hormones influence insulin sensitivity, especially during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause in females (Bruns & Kemnitz 2004). In males, low plasma levels of SHBG and free testosterone have been associated with increased insulin resistance (Mohammed et al 2018). The risk of insulin resistance increases with excess weight and adipose tissue, therefore, balancing sex hormones and insulin resistance is important in promoting weight loss.
What are some nutritional and supplemental changes to assist with hormonal balance?
B vitamins are used as partners in the detoxification process, which may help hormones cycle through their normal process. Hormones are constantly being broken down in the body by the liver and within the gastrointestinal tract in this detoxification process. Additionally, higher intakes of vitamin B2, or riboflavin, were associated with a small decrease in serum estradiol, one of the main estrogens (Kim et al 2020). A B Complex supports a balanced nervous system and is vital for energy metabolism, which is essential for maintaining motivation for healthy habits and supporting weight loss.
Ground flaxseed contains phytoestrogens, which are plant chemicals called lignans. Lignans work to increase or decrease estrogenic effects depending on what the body needs. Around 2 tablespoons of flaxseed per day may be associated with a decrease in premenstrual symptoms, menopausal symptoms, and protection against breast cancer.
Our endocrine system and hormones function with greater efficiency when inflammation is reduced. Because obesity is associated with chronic inflammation, reduction in inflammatory markers helps to promote weight loss and hormone regulation.
One action is to increase anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients in day-to-day eating. This may be done by following an anti-inflammatory eating plan including greater intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes within the diet. Some highlights of the foods to add include:
Blood sugar control
Blood sugars are heavily regulated by our endocrine system, therefore, regulation of insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and sex hormones influence blood sugar and insulin levels. Important tips for blood sugar control include increasing fiber, eating at regular times, and participating in moderate physical activity. Estrogen levels and insulin signaling are affected by physical activity and overall weight loss. For example, circulating estrogen levels correlate with increasing BMI and weight loss is associated with a decrease in estrogen synthesis (Carlson et al 2012).
HealthWise provides over 200 weight loss products and the majority of these products are also created to support insulin levels as well. Managing blood sugar levels and weight loss goals can be achieved with the help of HealthWise products. Some examples of supportive products include:
By supporting hormone levels and promoting the natural detoxification process, weight loss, and maintenance can be easier to achieve. Nutrition, such as using an anti-inflammatory eating pattern or adding in ground flaxseed can support lowering estrogens and the body’s inflammatory response. Supplementation with particular products, such as a B complex can support the hormonal breakdown process. HealthWise products can be a great way to support weight loss, the regulation of blood sugar levels and, therefore, hormone levels.
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By Katie Chapmon, MS, RD and Amanda Brainerd
About the Authors:
Katie Chapmon, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in Bariatric Nutrition, GI Issues and Hormonal Health and with 10+ years of hands-on clinical experience for leading medical providers. She is the proud recipient of the 2010 Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award and 2018 Excellence in Weight Management Practice Award through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
She spent the first decade of her career as the lead dietitian for Kaiser Permanente Southern California. For the past several years, she has been working with industry partners and consumers to improve nutrition education within the field and maintains a virtual private practice. In April 2021, she launched Bariatric Nutrition Pro – to provide healthcare practitioners education to start (or continue!) their bariatric career with the confidence and knowledge to succeed.
She is a past Chair of the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Integrated Health Clinical Issues Committee and Chapter author of the 3rd Edition of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Pocket Guide to Bariatric Surgery. She is a national speaker and enjoys time hiking and cooking in the kitchen.
Amanda Brainerd, MS, CSCS is a Dietetic Intern completing her internship to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She holds a Master of Nutrition and Dietetics from Kansas State University and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. She received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science from Wartburg College where she was named the Outstanding Senior in the program and was a member of the Women’s Basketball team.
Amanda is passionate about helping others in all aspects of health and hopes to blend her expertise in exercise and nutrition during her career as an RDN. During her post-graduate education, she has worked as a personal trainer, fitness coach, and virtual nutrition assistant. Amanda enjoys cooking for friends and family, taking her dog on walks, and traveling throughout the country.