Hormones have a greater impact on weight and weight regulation. Numerous factors, such as genetics, diet, physical activity, and lifestyle can affect hormone function. Addressing hormonal imbalance can help maintain a healthy weight, it can be achieved by managing stress, increasing insulin sensitivity, having a nutritious meal, and having an exercise regimen. 

Elevated cortisol levels in the body can be a cause of hormonal weight gain. The body may go into survival mode due to the elevated cortisol levels, this leads to the formation of new fat cells and also slows down the metabolism.

In menopausal women the levels of oestradiol (a type of oestrogen, which helps in the management of weight) and metabolism are low. Weight gain is prevalent when the oestradiol levels are low and women may gain weight around the thighs and hips. 

In this blog, you will learn what are the hormones that have an impact on weight and treatment options. 

Factors that influence hormonal weight gain

  • Genetics

  • Lifestyle

  • Ageing 

  • Pituitary tumours or any surgeries. 

Hormones involved in weight gain 

Hormones that are important in controlling body weight include the following:

  • Thyroid hormone 

The body’s metabolic rate is regulated by two primary thyroid hormones – triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). When your body makes little to no thyroid hormones it is called a hypothyroid or underactive thyroid, the metabolism is slow and there is weight gain associated with it. 

When there is overproduction or excessive production of thyroid hormones the metabolism is faster and results in weight loss this condition is called hyperthyroid or overactive thyroid. Homeostasis of thyroid hormone affects weight management and overall metabolic health. 

  • Oestrogen imbalance

Weight gain can happen in both high levels and low levels of oestrogen. When oestrogen levels are high, the body signals the pancreas to release insulin to convert sugars into energy, after some time the cells become resistant to these signals and the sugars are not broken down resulting in weight gain. 

When the oestrogen levels are low during menopause, the body uses fat sources as oestrogen and it converts energy into fat which leads to weight gain. 

Weight gain is caused even at normal levels of oestrogen mainly in the hips and thighs before menopause and perimenopause. 

  • Androgen imbalance

Excess androgen often leads to weight gain. Androgens are produced in high amounts in young men as the age levels of androgen decrease, this change in age and sex hormones alters the body fat distribution in the body. 

  • Insulin resistance

The body signals the pancreas to release insulin to convert sugars into energy, when insulin is produced in excess for a long time the cells become resistant to the signals and eventually stop producing insulin. The sugars are not broken down into energy and it gets accumulated in the body leading to weight gain. 

  • Growth hormone deficiency 

Growth hormone and adipose tissue interact in ways that can be as follows: reduced growth hormone secretion is an indicator of obesity. Growth hormone is lipolytic (breakdown of fat) and acts to reduce and redistribute fat in the body. 

  • Excess cortisol

Cortisol is a stress hormone that is produced when your body is under stress. It is produced by the adrenal glands, it is an important hormone and has many functions in the body. Elevated cortisol can be due to many reasons, it can also be due to conditions like Cushing’s syndrome. When the cortisol level is high in the body, it promotes overeating and leads to weight gain. 

  • Leptin resistance

Leptin resistance is a condition where the signal between fat cells and the brain is affected. Leptin is produced to the proportion of fat cells, so in individuals who have more fat cells, leptin is produced in higher amounts. These high-level leptin signals the brain to stop eating but in leptin resistance, the brain fails to recognise the signal. 

  • Excess prolactin 

Chronic excess prolactin is associated with increased food intake and weight gain. It blocks the functional dopaminergic tone that is induced by hyperprolactinemia and it increases the appetite in hyperprolactinemic patients. 

  • Pituitary insufficiency 

The absence of one or more hormones from the pituitary gland is known as hypopituitarism. The pituitary gland influences body weight through hormonal release. When the pituitary gland does not function properly it affects the release of hormones that influence weight. 

  • Glucagon-like peptide -1 (GLP-1)

GLP-1 delays gastric emptying. It enhances insulin secretion and inhibits glucagon release in a glucose-dependent manner. GLP-1 therapy reduces food intake, hunger, and appetite and it promotes fullness and satiety, which leads to weight loss. Certain medications that have GLP-1 receptors can cause weight gain as a side effect. 

  • Neuropeptide y (NPY)

It is an amino acid peptide produced by neurons. Evidence shows that the NPY gene is linked to obesity by stimulating energy expenditure and increasing energy stored as adiposity.

  • Low testosterone

Low testosterone impacts weight gain by decreasing muscle mass, increases fat storage and men tend to have low energy levels. Testosterone helps in building and maintaining muscle mass, in a person with low testosterone the muscle mass decreases and the body stores more fat. This accumulation of fat in the body leads to an increased risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

In a person with low testosterone the body’s metabolism slows down. This slow down in metabolism makes it difficult to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. 

Diagnosing hormonal weight changes

Low oestrogen, hormonal resistance, thyroid imbalance, and other hormonal imbalances cause weight change. Consulting an endocrinologist and finding the underlying cause for weight gain is important. 

Treatments for hormonal weight gain

  • Hormone replacement therapy

  • Dietary modification 

  • Lifestyle modifications

  • Testosterone replacement 

  • Medications for management of appetite. 

  • Oral contraceptive pills

  • Other medication that normalises excess hormone levels. 

To conclude, hormones play a major role in regulating body weight. It is important to seek help from an endocrinologist to correct any hormonal imbalance present. If it is untreated it can lead to various health risks such as type 2 diabetes, infertility, mood disturbances, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, cardiovascular complications, stroke, sleep apnoea, asthma, and cancer. 

Kripa N,
Senior Clinical Dietitian, Simplyweight