Hormonal imbalance might be holding back your weight loss
There are many reasons why you may have hit the weight-loss ‘plateau’ even if you’re keeping a healthy diet and exercising regularly. These include nutritional imbalances, chronic inflammation, leaky gut, metabolic challenges, changes in your microbiome, environmental toxins and even your genes. Another reason can be a hormonal imbalance, which is the subject of this article.
The number one culprit is undoubtedly Insulin. When in excess can cause weight gain, inflammation and chronic disease. Some call it ‘fat fertilizer’ or ‘fat storage hormone’. But insulin is not the only hurdle. Other hormones can also disrupt your weight loss. The three main ones are thyroid, cortisol and sex hormones.
Let’s look at them briefly:
Cortisol – Stress induces weight gain and insulin resistance (and arguably weight gain brings on stress). Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances the brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. All of this is normal in the short term but if this is a chronic situation high levels of cortisol will also lead to increased belly fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and loss of muscle tissue.
Whilst it’s nearly impossible to eliminate stress completely, it can be reduced using different tools such as yoga, meditation or Heartmath. All of these activities activate mechanism that promote weight loss and wellness.
Thyroid – Another source of weight-loos resistance is the thyroid. Half of hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) cases go undiagnosed, despite the fact that 20% of women and 10% of men have this condition. The thyroid can be impacted by nutrient deficiencies, stress and environmental toxins. A frequent cause of hypothyroidism is gluten intolerance. Other things that interfere with thyroid function are pesticides and heavy metals. Nutrient deficiencies can also be behind the slowing down of your thyroid. Selenium, zinc, iodine and omega 3’s are required for smooth running of your thyroid.
Unfortunately, most doctors don’t test for thyroid functions correctly. And even those who do, don’t always treat it in the most effective way of optimising thyroid function through diet, supplements and correct hormone replacement therapy (HRT). That is bad news because the thyroid is a pivotal player in maintaining healthy weight and weight loss resistance.
Here’s how to optimise your thyroid function and weight loss:
Maintain a thyroid ‘friendly’ diet – cut down on soybeans, raw kale and other dark green leaf and cruciferous vegetables because they often contain goitrogens (which are thyroid blocking compounds). In this scenario, you can eat them, but not raw. So cut down on kale juice and kale salad. You might also want to increase your consumption of pumpkin seeds and oysters (which are an excellent source zinc, Brazil nuts for selenium and iodine, and low-mercury, wild caught fish and seaweed (for additional iodine, which is the mineral building block of the thyroid hormones). People consume less iodised salt, a habit that can lead to iodine deficiency. Other reasons for iodine deficiency are over exposure to chlorine and fluoride.
Take good quality thyroid supporting supplements – A good quality multivitamin that contains the nutrients mentioned above. Fish or krill oil and vitamin D. If your iodine levels are low, get some iodine supplements but get tested regularly to ensure you’re not overdosing.
Have the right tests done – Request a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH and free T3 and T4, as well as thyroid antibodies including thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and anti-thyroglobulin antibodies. Some people are advised to test further and get a special test called reverse T3 to learn if something like heavy metals (mercury), pesticides, yeast or nutritional deficiencies like selenium, vitamin D, zinc or even iodine could block thyroid hormone function. Reverse T3 is the ‘braking-mechanism’ that stops the thyroid hormone from working at the right times. Unfortunately, toxins and inflammation increase levels of reverse T3. Even if regular thyroid tests appear normal, high levels of reverse T3 mean that the thyroid is not functioning properly.
Replace thyroid hormones correctly – this requires a specialised doctor to custom prescribe the right protocol for you. However, please be aware that most doctors will only prescribe T4 (which is the inactive form of thyroid hormone that the body converts to its active form T3). Research shows that most people do better on bioidentical hormones or a combination of T3 and T4.
Sex hormones imbalances – Imbalances in sex hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone can often cause weight problems. If you have high levels of oestrogen, you’re likely to gain weight regardless if you’re male or female. Oestrogen spikes in both genders by consuming too much sugar, refined carbs and alcohol. Keeping a healthy gut is also very important because it cultivates healthy sex-hormone metabolism. You can also damage your gut by taking too much antibiotics or consume too little fibre, and when your gut is impaired it triggers oestrogen to spike because the body is not able to adequately detoxify or evacuate waste products.
Symptoms of excess oestrogen in men include loss of body hair (including arms, legs and chest) a beer belly and ‘moobs’ (man boobs). Low testosterone in men can accelerate the process of aging. Other reasons for diminished testosterone include lack of exercise, alcohol, stress, environmental toxins, pituitary problems and very often diabesity. Low testosterone can also lead to lose of muscle and fat fain in men. These can lead to sexual dysfunction, fatigue, diminished libido, mental fog and bone loss that can be at times a precursor to osteoporosis.
It’s interesting to note that cholesterol produces testosterone and other sex hormones. You can get more information on how to test for these and other hormone imbalances in my manual on How to Help your Doctor Help You.
But for now, if you’re looking for a shortcut the following strategies will help you get started:
Get off your butt – exercise helps balancing your hormones. It will reduce your oestrogen and increase your testosterone, which will put you on a fast track to losing fat and gaining muscle.
Increase your fibre intake – Two table spoons a day of flaxseed powder will provide optimal fibre and lignans which help balance up your hormones. Also add more veg and fruit to your diet (preferably organic).
Reduce your alcohol intake – too much of this stuff is bad for your liver and kidney function which obstructs detoxification and can increase your triglycerides, create hormonal imbalances and fatty liver.
Go regularly – hormones don’t like constipation. So make sure you go regularly and if you’re experiencing problems in this department I recommend you take daily magnesium citrate, vitamin C, probiotics and flax seed powder. For most people, this combination is a gate buster.
Consume a hormone balancing diet – it’s a no brainer! Eat more healthy fats and less sugars. It’s my recommended diet not just for hormonal imbalances.
Bottom Line - Although there can be many reasons for hitting a weight-loss plateau, in my experience addressing the cortisol, thyroid and sex hormones imbalances often help my clients get unstuck. A good way to find out if you have hormonal imbalance is to have it tested and this can be done in several ways. I recommend the DUTCH test which is the latest available.
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