What is Hormonal Weight Gain?
Hormonal weight gain refers to weight gain that is caused by imbalances in the body’s hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers produced by the endocrine glands. They regulate various processes, including metabolism, appetite, energy levels, and fat storage. When the levels of certain hormones are disrupted, weight changes can occur.
So, what causes hormonal imbalances?
Hormonal imbalances can be caused by factors that affect your endocrine system, including puberty, aging, environment, and genetics. Certain diseases, treatments, medications, and supplements can also play a role.
How do Hormones Affect Weight?
Different hormones influence your weight in different ways.
For example, hormones like ghrelin, also known as “the hunger hormone,” stimulate your appetite, while motilin kicks in during a fasted state to signal to your brain that you need food.
Other hormones can affect your weight by reducing your appetite or causing you to feel full. These hormones include cholecystokinin, glucagon-like peptide-1, pancreatic peptide, leptin, insulin, and obestatin.
In addition to having hormones that influence how much you eat, you also have hormones that affect processes like energy expenditure (how many calories you burn daily) and fat storage and breakdown. These are the hormones that can contribute to “unexplained” weight fluctuations.
8 Hormonal Imbalances that Can Affect Weight Loss
Numerous hormones can contribute to unexpected weight changes. Here are eight that you may want to measure if you suddenly struggle to maintain a healthy weight.
Estradiol (E12) is the strongest of the three naturally occurring estrogens in the body. Although it is often referred to as a female hormone, estradiol is found in all sexes. However, women have much higher levels of estradiol than men.
Estradiol plays a significant role in maintaining healthy bone growth and improving blood flow in coronary arteries. It also offers neuroprotective effects and helps both sexes maintain a healthy libido.
Estrogen levels that are out of the normal range can contribute to numerous adverse effects, including body weight and composition fluctuations. For example, low estrogen can cause belly fat, and in women, it can contribute to weight gain, predominantly in the waist, hips, and thighs.
High levels of estrogen can also lead to changes in body composition. For instance, women can experience weight gain, while men may develop female characteristics such as enlarged breasts and loss of muscle tone.
Progesterone is most commonly known for its role in maintaining a regular menstrual cycle and the early stages of pregnancy in women. While low levels can cause abnormal cycles and problems with conception, they can also cause higher-than-normal estrogen levels, which can contribute to weight problems.
On the other hand, high progesterone levels are associated with symptoms like bloating and weight gain. High levels can also lead to fatigue, which can cause you to become more sedentary.
Another hormone that can affect your ability to lose weight is testosterone. While it’s considered an androgen, also called a male sex hormone, because of its role in developing male characteristics, testosterone is also present in women.
Testosterone influences muscle growth and metabolism and is associated with fat distribution. Some research suggests that weight and testosterone are inversely related, meaning not only can testosterone levels affect weight, but weight can influence testosterone levels.
DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is an androgen hormone primarily produced by the adrenal glands. It’s a precursor hormone, meaning it has little biological effect on its own; however, when it’s converted into other hormones like testosterone and estrogen, it has powerful effects.
Some research shows that it may play a role in weight management. DHEA peaks in early adulthood and gradually decreases with age.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands and released in response to stressors like illness and exercise. While it’s often referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol also has many other bodily roles, including blood sugar and energy metabolism regulation.
Chronically elevated cortisol can have many adverse effects, including increased appetite and fat storage, particularly in the abdominal area.
Lower-than-normal cortisol levels can cause a rare autoimmune condition called primary adrenal insufficiency, also known as Addison’s disease. Common weight-related symptoms associated with Addison’s disease include fatigue, muscle loss, and weight loss.
For most people, cortisol levels are highest in the morning and lowest in the middle of the night.
6. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone
Thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH, is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. TSH binds to the receptors on the cells of the thyroid gland, triggering it to produce thyroid hormones T3 and T4.
The thyroid’s primary role is to regulate your metabolism. When TSH levels are low, metabolism can slow down, making it more difficult to lose weight. Conversely, high TSH levels are associated with weight loss.
HbA1c is a form of hemoglobin bound to glucose. Blood HbA1c levels reflect how well diabetes is controlled. Some studies have found that higher HbA1c levels are associated with a higher body mass index (BMI) and increased body fat. Other studies suggest that improving HbA1c levels through better blood sugar control may be related to weight loss.
Like testosterone, the relationship between HbA1c may be bidirectional. Thus, lowering weight may lower HbA1c and vice versa.
C-reactive protein (CRP) increases in response to inflammation. Research suggests that CRP may be the most substantial factor associated with obesity. Again, the relationship between CRP and weight may be bidirectional, with both affecting each other.
A high-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) is more sensitive than a standard CRP test when measuring baseline concentrations and enables a measure of chronic inflammation.
The Relationship Between Vitamin D and Weight
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin widely known for its role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth. It is also involved in immune system function and blood pressure regulation.
While it’s not a hormone, research suggests that vitamin D may also be associated with weight. For instance, one study found that people with higher vitamin D levels tended to have lower BMI and body fat percentages. Another study found that vitamin D supplements may help with weight loss in people who are overweight or obese.
However, it’s important to note that these studies are preliminary and more research is needed to understand the relationship between vitamin D and weight.
Weight Loss Factors Beyond Hormonal Imbalances
Hormonal imbalances aren’t the only reason you may be struggling to lose weight. Diet and exercise also play a significant role in weight and body composition. Other factors that can influence weight include:
- Certain medications
- Certain medical conditions
How to Check Your Hormone Levels
Laboratory testing is a great tool to screen for imbalances. There are a few ways you can get tested. One way is to go to a lab to get your sample taken. This route often requires you to obtain a lab order from your doctor first.
Another option is to take an at-home lab test. This option allows you to order a test, collect a sample, return it to a CLIA-certified lab, and view your results from home.
Home Test Box offers an at-home lab-based Weight Loss Test Kit that measures the levels of eight hormones that may contribute to weight difficulties, along with vitamin D. This route can be more convenient, especially if time and transportation are limited.
Regardless of your choice, you will likely need to be evaluated by an endocrinologist to confirm your weight gain is related to hormones. The endocrinologist can review your lab results, order more tests if necessary, and review your symptoms and any other signs of hormonal imbalance.
Think Your Weight Gain May Be Hormonal?
This at-home lab test measures vitamin D and hormones that regulate metabolism, which may help you understand unexplained weight and energy fluctuations.