The human body uses chemical messengers, called hormones, to convey information between different organs and cells. Hormones are critically important in the co-ordination of all bodily functions, but they can sometimes work against our conscious wishes. You may wish to lose weight, but, your body could be signaling to store fat. By learning how your hormones work you can regain control of your body.
If your desire is to lose weight, working in harmony with your body, changing the hormonal signals, will make it much easier.
Human beings have evolved very little over the last hundred thousand years, essentially we are identical to our cave dwelling ancestors, with slightly less hair. This is vital information when we think about how our bodies operate. Humans, like other animals, had to adapt to the environment in order to survive.
To increase the chances of survival nature equipped us with different mechanisms for being energized, and not starving to death. It is these different mechanisms, controlled by hormones, which influence how we store or utilize body fat.
Our ancestors were opportunists: if there were berries on the bushes or nuts in the tree they would eat them; if there was an animal within range they would hunt and eat it. The human body adapted and evolved to suit this opportunistic method of eating.
When food was plentiful we would eat as much as possible, encouraged by pleasurable chemicals released in the brain. Hormones would signal the food abundance.
They direct the body to store away as much of the food as possible, as fat, for the winter months when food was less plentiful. During winter this fat store was gradually used up until spring time when food once again was more available. The body relies on hormones to make ‘decisions’ about how much fat to store.
Unfortunately our hormones were designed to work with more natural foods such as fruit and not highly refined and synthesized sugars like High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).Hormones influence not only how much fat is stored and when but also where it goes.
Learning how these hormones work and how to control them will help you lose weight effectively.
Insulin, produced by the pancreas, is the major hormone involved in energy metabolism. Insulin is the hormone that functions ineffectively for diabetics.
Type 1 Diabetics do not produce insulin, often due to a problem with the pancreas after a viral infection in childhood; they have to inject artificial insulin.
Type 2 Diabetics usually have insulin resistance; their body is producing so much insulin that the cells have stopped ‘listening’ to it. Most Type 2 Diabetics take pills to make their body less resistant to their own insulin, while others have to inject artificial insulin.
The incidence of Diabetes in the US has reached nearly 10% of the population with the figures expected to keep increasing, dramatically. Insulin resistance can go on for many years before people actually develop diabetes, until then they are considered pre-diabetic and without some dietary changes they will develop the disease.
There is a strong relationship between obesity and insulin resistance. Researchers have been trying to identify which one comes first but the mechanisms are complex. One thing is for sure, the content of processed food has a very big role to play in both obesity and diabetes. There is also growing concern about a new condition, called Metabolic Syndrome which also affects blood sugar, usually regulated by insulin, this too has been linked to refined sugar consumption.
When we eat any carbohydrates the body cuts it up, enzymatically, into smaller sugars such as glucose. The presence of glucose in the blood causes the pancreas to secrete the hormone insulin. The insulin helps cells take up glucose which is converted to the body’s energy ‘currency’ called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Insulin signals to the body that food is plentiful and should be stored as fat for any future food shortages. Insulin also makes you hungry, in an attempt to make you eat as much as possible and store as much as possible in case the next meal is a few weeks away. Of course the chances of actual food shortages in our modern society are rare, but the body does not know this.
The more glucose you eat the more insulin is released. If you eat foods which are low in glucose the body reacts calmly and releases a little insulin which mops up the glucose. If you eat foods which are high in glucose the body reacts assertively and releases a lot of insulin which works quickly to remove glucose from the blood into cells or fat storage.
If you eat foods very high in glucose, or containing unrecognizable sugars, the body completely panics and releases loads of insulin. This variation in insulin release is also referred to as the Glycemic Index (GI) and is used by many dieters to reduce the ”store fat” signal of insulin.
Foods which are low GI are generally less sweet, often contain more fiber, protein and fat and are more natural, such as nuts. Foods which are high GI are often sweeter and contain a high ratio of glucose to other ingredients, such as orange juice. Processed foods are almost always high GI because they contain sugars which cause the body to get confused and over-react.
Evolution did not equip us with the processes to understand or use High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and as such it causes too much insulin to be released which leads to insulin resistance, Type 2 Diabetes and obesity. Sadly HFCS, known by many alternative names, is present in almost all processed foods and sodas.
The over stimulation of insulin by artificial sugars (HFCS is just one of the main culprits) creates the wrong signals for the body. The high levels of insulin shout at the body, telling it to store fat and even increase appetite. Worse still insulin actually prevents fat from being broken down while increasing fat storage.
When you avoid unnatural sugars completely your body is able to calm down and stop panicking about high GI foods it can’t process. By removing the artificial sugar and instead using natural sugars, such as coconut nectar, the hormonal mechanisms return to normal.
For many people diets which are low in carbohydrate, such as Atkins and Paleo, help them lose weight by changing the way the body is signaling with insulin. Cut out carbohydrates, especially processed artificial sugars, and the amount of insulin released is virtually zero. The body then assumes food is ‘unavailable’ and burns stored fat. This simple understanding has helped millions of people lose weight and reduce appetite.
Even a short term respite from the over secretion of insulin is enough to cure Type 2 Diabetes and insulin resistance. Studies published in the American Journal of the American Association showed that intensive lifestyle interventions (i.e. dietary changes) lead to remission of Type 2 Diabetes.
A recent meeting “The Reversing Diabetes World Summit” gathered together 22 experts in diabetes and healthy nutrition and presented groundbreaking information about what was once thought to be an incurable condition. Instead of taking pills with loads of side effects, giving the body a carbohydrate break and adopting a diet low in carbohydrates will completely cure Type 2 diabetes.
By cutting out the carbohydrates appetite is reduced and by eating more vegetables (low in sugar and high in fiber and nutrients) patients report feeling much better than on their high sugar processed diets.
Adiponectin is a hormone which is getting more attention from the scientific community due to its anti-diabetic effect. Studies in the journal of Diabetes revealed it reduces insulin resistance, leading to improvement in blood sugar management for Type 2 Diabetics. Further studies in the Journal of Natural Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Chemistry indicate adiponectin can reverse insulin resistance associated with obesity.
This hormone is an adipocytokines: a specific messenger molecule secreted by adipose tissue (fat cells). The hormone functions to encourage the breakdown and useage of fat as an energy source. It is usually found in relatively high concentrations in the blood plasma unless you are obese.
For obese people less of the hormone is secreted, even though there is more adipose tissue. This bizarre down-regulation of the hormone is thought to be closely linked to excessive weight gain. It seems to be a preventative measure to stop too much fat-based energy being released into the blood. Some people seem to naturally have more of the hormone and it leads to weight loss, it encourages the break-down of fat.
Studies in the Journal of Diabetes and Obesity Medicine found patients could naturally increase their adiponectin levels by eating sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas). In addition to improving blood sugar levels the increase in adiponectin was associated with weight loss. An associated reduction in fibrinogen levels also improved cardiovascular health reducing fatty build up inside blood vessels.
Cortisol is a hormone which is associated with stress. Like epinephrine it is released in response to stressful situations and prepares the body for action. However, it is meant to be turned off after the danger has passed. Unfortunately many modern lifestyles encourage the release of this hormone through: lack of sleep; consumption of stimulants like coffee; over-stimulating audio-visual entertainment; and emotional challenges.
Cortisol is yet another hormone linked to the new and rather mysterious disease known as metabolic syndrome. Studies in the Journal of Clinical Sciences found that cortisol increased blood sugar, via gluconeogenesis, and leads to the abnormal glucose processing typical of the syndrome.
The process of gluconeogenesis involves breaking down fat, and other tissues, to produce glucose for immediate energy. While this is useful when facing imminent danger, requiring immediate action, when cortisol is chronically elevatedthere are serious side effect.
Since cortisol is intended to help the body focus on immediate threats, it actually reduces the function of the immune system. Long-term suppression of the immune system reduces your ability to repair old or damaged cells and repair DNA mutations before they become cancerous.
Studies in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry found that stress and depression lead to obesity through both physiological mechanisms, habitual comfort eating, and psychological mechanisms of cortisol mediated stress. One stressful event each day, as defined by the Daily Inventory of Stressful Events, leads to an increased caloric absorption of 435 kJ, which equates to an annual weight gain of 11 pounds.
If you experience just 5 stressful years, including: a job you dislike; family problems; moving house; divorce or bereavement this could take you from a normal healthy weight to clinically obese. Over a lifetime you can see how stress easily leads to obesity.
Reducing stress levels is key to reducing cortisol, which will not only help you lose weight but also help the immune system repair the body and fight off infection. Exercising, being in nature, connecting with others, taking time to relax, meditating, getting more sleep and feeling more fulfilled in life with rewarding work and personal hobbies are all ways in which you can naturally reduce the impact of stress on your life and waistline.
Leptin is the hormone associated with the feeling of fullness, or satiety, after eating and is also made by adipose tissue. It is associated with obesity and worryingly studies reveal that Leptin functionality is damaged by eating MSG (which under various names is present in almost all processed food including infant and baby foods).
Some foods which are low in nutrients, such as refined flour and sugar, also cause Leptin resistance. As with Type 2 Diabetes, resistance develops which means the body stops listening to the signals to stop eating. If you do not respond to Leptin’s signal to stop eating and eat beyond what your body needs, surplus calories are converted to fat for long-term storage.
Avoiding MSG and improving your gut bacteria are ways in which you can naturally increase Leptin and Leptin sensitivity. Preliminary studies are indicating that MSG induced obesity (in laboratory animals) can be treated with probiotic therapy which restores Leptin and Adiponectin levels to normal. Including probiotics (good bacteria) and prebiotics (food for the good bacteria) in your diet could help restore Leptin functionality and help you lose weight.
Ghrelin is known as the appetite hormone; it is released every 4 hours and makes us want to eat, working synergistically with Leptin. Studies are also revealing that it also makes fat accumulate, specifically in the abdominal region.
Very low calorie diets cause Ghrelin levels to be increased. The body thinks it is starving and attempts to encourage eating by releasing the hormone. At the same time fat is conserved due to the perceived food emergency. This means when you severely restrict calories the body holds onto stored fat even tighter.
Eating every 4 hours and intermittent fasting will help keep the level of this hormone lower, promoting weight loss. Getting sufficient and good quality sleep has also been shown to reduce Ghrelin levels and eating protein at each meal has a positive effect too.
Hormones often have a variety of effects in different parts of the body and while estrogen is typically known as a female hormone men produce it too but in lower quantities. In women’s bodies estrogen affects the lining of the womb, the brain and fat cells in very different ways. Estrogen levels rise at the beginning of the ovulatory cycle causing the lining of the womb to thicken, preparing to receive a fertilized egg.
Levels of the hormone drop just before menses, often related to mood swings and food cravings when the stimulation by estrogen of serotonin and dopamine levels is reduced. Fat cells are also strongly affected and higher levels of estrogen receptors in the lower abdomen reduce breakdown of fat in this area.
The effect of estrogen on fat cells causes the typical female ‘pear shape’ and makes fat in this area more stable. It is worth noting that exercising this area when estrogen levels are lowest, just before your period, can make this stubborn fat easier to shift.
Estrogen also interacts with the hormones insulin and cortisol. Sensitivity to insulin is increased by the action of the hormone, which means when estrogen is low insulin sensitivity can be reduced making weight gain easier (just before and during your period).
The action of cortisol is also reduced by estrogen which explains the increased levels of stress and anxiety experienced as PMS which many women experience prior to their period.
A condition known as estrogen dominance syndrome,affecting both men and women, has been linked to diseases including male feminization, obesity and cancer. A preliminary study at a University Hospital in Toronto has related the escalation in prostate cancer to increased use of birth control pills which are contaminating drinking water. There are other sources of environmental estrogens which play havoc with hormonal balance and can be reduced to facilitate weight-loss.
Xenoestrogenscome from plastics, cosmetics and some food sources, notably: soy; flax; meat and dairy products. Reducing exposure to these artificial chemicals which mimic estrogen reduces the interference with natural rhythms, and protects against various diseases.
Can we fix these hormones to help you lose weight?
Yes you can. It is all about keeping your hormones in balance so that you can lose weight instead of gaining fats. Go to the next page and find out how you can balance your hormones and help you lose weight –
About the Author:
Emma Deangela is the best selling author of The Alkaline Diet Program and 80/20 Fat Loss. She has helped over tens of thousands of men and women to lose weight and transform their health with sound nutrition advice.
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