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9 hormones that affect our weight

Which hormones can affect our weight, and how can we keep them at optimal levels?

Hormones are chemicals released into the bloodstream by the endocrine glands and also by certain tissue cells ( for example, visceral fat cells). These chemicals are distributed throughout our body via the blood and regulate almost every bodily process, including metabolism, mood, hunger and satiety.


Everything that affects our appetite – also has a major impact on our body weight.

In other words, hormone dysregulation (when the body releases too few or too many hormones) can have a significant impact on both – our health and our weight.


In this article, we will look at 9 hormones that can affect our weight and how to keep them at a healthy level.


1 Insulin

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas. In healthy people, insulin ensures that glucose (simple sugar) is stored in the muscles, liver and fat cells for later use as a source of energy.

Insulin is released in small amounts throughout the day but peaks after meals.

Insulin resistance (cells stop responding to insulin) is a fairly common condition that causes high blood sugar levels (because glucose from the blood is unable to enter the body’s cells).

Insulin resistance is linked to obesity, which in turn can lead to diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.


How to improve insulin sensitivity:


2 Leptin

Leptin, the satiety hormone, tells the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that regulates appetite) that we are full.

However, this message may not reach the brain in people with leptin resistance.

As a result, the feeling of satiety does not set in, and we eat and overeat.

The direct cause of leptin resistance is unclear, but it is known that it can be caused by inflammation, gene mutations and/or excessive leptin production, which can occur in obesity.


Although it is not yet known how to treat leptin resistance, some lifestyle changes may help to reduce leptin levels and improve sensitivity to it:


3 Ghrelin

Ghrelin, or the hunger hormone, works in the opposite way to leptin. Its main function is to increase appetite – when the stomach is empty, it sends a message to the hypothalamus that food is needed.

In general, ghrelin levels are highest before meals and lowest after meals.

Interestingly, obese people have low levels of ghrelin but are more sensitive to it. This sensitivity can lead to overeating.

This is particularly true for those on crash/fad diets, as severe calorie restriction often increases ghrelin levels, leading to hunger, while the metabolism tends to slow down at the same time. In other words, the body spends less, but we want to eat more.


How to reduce ghrelin levels to reduce appetite:


4 Cortisol

Cortisol, or the stress hormone, triggers an increase in heart rate and energy levels during stress.

Cortisol is important in stressful situations, but if its levels are chronically high, health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, low energy levels, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances and weight gain can occur.

Obesity increases cortisol levels, and vice versa – high cortisol levels can lead to weight gain, thus creating a negative feedback loop.


How to reduce cortisol levels:

  • Chronic sleep problems, including insomnia, sleep apnoea and irregular sleep patterns (e.g., shift work), can contribute to elevated cortisol levels.
  • Cortisol levels temporarily rise after intense exercise, but regular exercise usually helps to reduce its levels, improving general health and lowering stress.
  • Focus on your feelings here and now (Mindfulness). Studies show that this practice lowers cortisol levels, although more research is needed to say for sure. Try to incorporate meditation into your daily routine.
  • As obesity can increase cortisol levels and high cortisol levels can lead to weight gain, maintaining a healthy weight can help control your cortisol levels.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Studies show that diets high in added sugars, ‘white’ flour, and saturated fats can raise cortisol levels.

5 Estrogen

Estrogen is a sex hormone that regulates the female reproductive system as well as the immune, skeletal and vascular systems.

Levels of this hormone change during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.

High levels of oestrogen, which are often seen in obese people, are associated with an increased risk of various chronic diseases and some cancers.

Conversely, low levels of oestrogen, which are commonly seen during ageing, premenopause and menopause, can affect body weight and body fat, thereby also increasing the risk of chronic diseases.

People with low estrogen levels often experience fat accumulation in the middle of the body, which can lead to health problems such as high blood sugar, high blood pressure and heart disease.

All these risks can be reduced by making lifestyle changes and maintaining a healthy body weight.


How to maintain healthy estrogen levels:


6 Neuropeptide Y

Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a hormone produced by cells in the brain and nervous system that stimulates appetite and reduces energy expenditure in response to hunger or stress.

As this hormone can stimulate food intake, it can also increase fat accumulation and cause abdominal obesity and/or metabolic syndrome (a condition that can increase the risk of chronic diseases).

Studies have shown that the mechanisms of NPY that lead to obesity can also trigger an inflammatory response, thus worsening health conditions.


How to maintain low NPY levels:


7 Glucagon-like peptide-1

Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) is a hormone produced in the intestines when nutrients enter the gut. It plays an important role in maintaining stable blood sugar levels and satiety.

Research suggests that obese people may have problems with GLP-1 signalling.

GLP-1 is therefore added to medications to reduce body weight and waist circumference (especially in diabetics).


How to maintain healthy GLP-1 levels:


8 Cholecystokinin

Like GLP-1, cholecystokinin (CCK) is a satiety hormone produced by intestinal cells after eating. It is essential for energy production, protein synthesis, digestion and other body functions. It also contributes to the release of the satiety hormone leptin.

Obese people may have a reduced sensitivity to CCK, which can lead to chronic overeating, which in turn can further reduce sensitivity to CCK, creating a negative feedback loop.


How to maintain healthy CCK levels:

  • Eat protein-rich foods. Studies have shown that a protein-rich diet can help increase CCK levels and thus increase satiety.
  • Although there is little research on this topic, some evidence supports that regular exercise increases CCK levels.

9 Peptide YY

Peptide YY (PYY) is another gut hormone that lowers appetite, and when it is low, appetite increases and overeating is more likely.

Adequate levels of PYY are thought to play an important role in reducing food intake and the risk of obesity.


How to maintain healthy PYY levels:

  • A balanced diet – enough protein can contribute to healthy PYY levels and satiety.
  • Physical activity. Although the research on physical activity and PYY levels is mixed, an active lifestyle has clear health benefits.

Key takeaways

Hormones control hunger, satiety, metabolism and fat distribution – which can all affect body weight.


There are three miracle remedies for improving hormonal health:

  • A balanced and wholesome diet.
  • Healthy and adequate sleep.
  • Regular physical activity.

The good news is that it’s up to us whether and to what extent we use these miracle remedies.


Keep moving, eat a balanced diet and – stay healthy and full of life!

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