Ever wondered why some people seem to eat as much as they please, only exercising moderately and manage to stay in great shape? While others only have to look at a cream cake, despite spending hours in the gym and still manage to gain 5lbs?
This all comes down to your metabolism. I am sure you’ve heard it said many times ”you have a fast metabolism” or ”your metabolism is slowing down” Well what exactly is your metabolism? How do we speed this up? This conjures up a picture of a wheel spinning somewhere inside you burning up the calories when actually your metabolism is a combination of all the molecules and hormones and fat cell messengers that regulate the rate at which you burn calories. Basically the main goal of your endocrine system is to maintain a hormonal balance to make your body and its operation function well. When levels of particular hormones go down, for instance, certain glands will begin to release that hormone to restore a balance. Problems arise when we have too little or too much of a particular hormone within the body.
Let’s have a look at the main hormones which may cause weight gain or loss and how they function.
Insulin. Insulin’s main function is to lower the amount of glucose in your blood. A short while after you have eaten, your meal is broken down into simple sugars which enter your blood stream. The pancreas then goes to work and releases insulin which transfer these sugars into your liver where the sugar is converted into glycogen to be used by the muscles. By maintaining low levels of insulin, the body will more easily use stored fat for fuel. Problems arise when a diet is filled with highly processed foods which break down faster, creating high blood sugar. The insulin then overcompensates and cleans the sugar out of the blood, leaving you hungry and making you crave more carbohydrate to replace the sugar. When the muscles are full of glycogen from your last meal, the insulin will then store the extra sugar as fat. If you repeat this process for too long, with the body producing too much insulin, the cells eventually start to ignore the insulin which will leave you insulin resistant and can lead to diabetes type 2.
Thyroid Your thyroid gland is located in your neck, just above the collar bone. If your thyroid becomes inflamed you could develop a goitre where you will see a slight welling in your throat. Thyroid controls a lot of functions within the body from the rate at which your body burns calories to your temperature, to your fertility, and your mood to name a few. The pituitary gland releases a hormone that stimulates the thyroid, the thyroid then takes iodine out of the blood and turns this into the hormone T4. T4 is then converted by the thyroid into T3. The level of this conversion depends on what is going on within your body at the time, factors such as being unwell, getting older, stressed, pregnant or on medication al have an impact on how much this conversion happens. For example, if you don’t consume enough calories the thyroid doesn’t make enough T3, less T3 means a slower metabolism. Things that mess up thyroid hormonal balance are: extreme dieting, menopause, medications, pregnancy, stress and vitamin deficiency.
Hypothyroidism – which can be hereditary and is seven times more common in women than in men – will also change your thyroid balance.
Estrogen and Progesterone. Estrogen has a large number of roles, especially in women’s bodies, from development into adulthood to control of bone density, heart function and memory, together with many other functions. Estrogen in women is produced in the ovaries, adrenals, fat tissue, and placenta. Women have many different kinds of estrogen, the three main ones being estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Before the menopause women naturally produce a high amount of estadiol from their ovaries, which gives them breast, hips and smooth skin. It also helps protect the heart, brain and bones and regulates the menstrual cycle. Estrone is produced in fat cells and edrenal glands and, before menopause, estrone is easily converted into estradiol. The third most common estrogen is estriol which is produced by the placenta during pregnancy. Progesterone comes from the adrenals and helps to balance estrogen. Estradiol is the estrogen of youth, which helps keep muscle levels higher and fat levels lower, lowers blood pressure, insulin levels and keeps energy levels high, also putting fat on your butt and your hips. Through the menopause estradiol decreases and estrone increases which moves the fat storage from your butt to your belly: the more fat you have, the more estrone you’ll produce, the more belly fat the more estrone, the more estrone the more belly fat. Things that mess up estrogen levels, apart from menopause, are: birth control pills, body fat, pesticides, plastics, smoking and stress.
Testosterone. This hormone is not just for men, increasing it won’t make women become muscle bound. Instead it’ll increase energy and help you keep toned calorie burning muscle, boost libido and protect bone. As our testosterone levels dip our muscles lose mass, we gain belly fat, our bones weaken, our motivation to exercise decreases. Things that mess up testosterone are: aging, body fat, diabetes, lack of exercise and stress.
Cortisol. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and is released when you become stressed. As one of your ‘flight or fight’ hormones, after the adrenal rush (aka adrenaline) of acute stress, if you haven’t released the cortisol by running or fighting back or by exercising cortisol still in your system will increase your craving for high fat high carbohydrate foods. Once you ea,t your body releases rewarding brain chemicals that can create an addiction to food when stressed. Things that mess up our cortisol levels are: anger, conflict, depression, dieting, excessive sugar, lack of sleep, prolonged stress and skipping breakfast.
Growth hormone. Growth hormone is produced in the pituitary gland and plays a huge role in developing bone and body tissue while enhancing immunity. Growth hormone increases your muscle mass which in turn raises your metabolic rate so you naturally burn more calories while having more power for your workouts. So it basically helps you lose fat faster while giving you energy. We suppress our growth hormone when we have a lack of good quality sleep, eat lots of processed carbohydrates and keep our blood sugar high. Protein, on the other hand, can help release higher levels of growth hormone. The same is true for intense exercise which encourages the body to use fat as fuel, which also keeps us insulin sensitive. Being insulin resistant suppresses growth hormone even more. Things that mess up our growth hormone levels are:high blood sugar, high cortisol, staying up past midnight, not doing enough exercise, not having enough sleep and stress.
Looking at our lifestyle choices that have a huge effect on our hormone levels, let’s start with not enough exercise. The more muscle you have the better, every pound of muscle burns three times more calories than fat, muscle uses up blood sugar and keeps you insulin sensitive. Exercise reduces cortisol and increases growth hormone, testosterone and thyroxine T4 production.
Yo-yo dieting depletes muscle slowing your metabolism. In the long term your body holds on to more fat for survival, T3 levels are decreased, you become more insulin resistant.
Too many processed foods with not enough nutrients create high blood sugar. They are also full of unnatural chemicals which play havoc with our hormonal levels.
Consuming too many pesticides in our food and antibiotics in our meat again plays havoc with our hormonal levels.
Spending too many hours working and not enough sleeping causes insulin resistance, lower levels of estriadol (estrogen) in women, lower levels of testosterone in men, lower levels of growth hormone in everyone, higher cortisol levels and less conversion of thyroid hormone. Smoking affects many endocrine glands: your pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, ovaries, and of course your lungs, heart and brain. It can lead to hyperthyroidism because cigarettes contain a substance that grows goitres, if you are hyperthyroid smoking causes even less thyroid secretion.
We need to cut out processed foods, hydrogenated fats found in biscuits and pies refined grains with added salt, sugar and chemicals and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which plays havoc with your insulin.
Excess alcohol promotes the release of estrogen into your blood stream which promotes fat storage and increases insulin production which long term promotes insulin resistance, fills your liver with glycogen and so, again, creates fat storage and decreases muscle growth.
Excess caffeine stimulates the central nervous system getting your adrenals to pump out stress hormones like cortisol. This creates an insulin response which promotes fat storage, and suppresses your immune system.
So, to keep your hormones balanced and your metabolism working at the correct speed keeping you slim, younger and full of energy and to help with PCOS and the menopause let’s:
Get more exercise.
Eat balanced meals and snacks (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) roughly every four hours keeping your insulin levels low.
Sleep at least seven hours per night.
Find time to de-stress and be good to yourself by maybe getting a massage, taking relaxing weekend breaks or peaceful walks.
Remove all processed foods and chemicals which stimulate our hormonal reactions.
Restore your vitamins and minerals with a good multivitamin.
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