Weight Management 6 MIN READ 96 VIEWS May 23, 2022

Understanding Hormonal Weight Gain

Written By HealthKart
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Aarti Nehra

hormonal weight gain

Hormones are the chemical messengers of the body. Released by the glands into the bloodstream, they travel to tissues and organs, transmitting signals that are vital for optimum functioning of the body. Therefore hormonal imbalance, i.e. too much or too little release of hormones in the bloodstream, affects the body’s functioning. Interestingly, hormones also regulate our appetite. So, if you are witnessing a higher number on the weighing scale, maybe it’s time to assess beyond diet and exercise. Read through to understand hormonal weight gain, its causes, symptoms, and ways to control or avoid it.

Causes of Hormonal Weight Gain

Weight gain due to hormonal changes is very common. Even a slight hormonal imbalance can fuel weight gain. The factors that may trigger a hormonal imbalance are:

  1. Genetics
  2. Ageing
  3. Sedentary lifestyle
  4. Medical diagnosis

Signs and Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance

Look for these hormonal weight gain symptoms that may indicate that the increasing weight trend is due to hormonal dysregulation:

  1. Swollen thyroid gland
  2. Fatigue
  3. Symmetrical weakness of proximal upper and lower limbs
  4. Moon face wherein the face gradually becomes round, full, and puffy
  5. Central obesity or increase in abdominal fat
  6. Purple striae or stretch marks on the body
  7. Acne
  8. Headache
  9. Hirsutism or coarse hair on the face, chest, and back
  10. Amenorrhea or impotence
  11. Visual disturbances
  12. Galactorrhea or milky nipple discharge

Hormones That Cause Weight Gain

While exercise and a healthy diet plan are crucial to maintaining your body weight, having the hormones in balance is equally important. Here’s the list of hormones responsible for hormonal weight gain:

1. Thyroid 

The hormones, T3, and T4 produced by the thyroid gland, are responsible for the regulation of metabolism, sleep, and heart rate. The hormones also play a crucial role in growth and brain development. Less than optimal production of these crucial hormones leads to hypothyroidism which leads to weight gain due to a decreased metabolic rate in a person with hypothyroidism. 

2. Leptin 

Optimum production of leptin initiates the feeling of fullness and regulates appetite. The messenger cells carry the message to the brain, which signals to stop eating. Increased intake of sugar and processed foods oversupply fructose to the body, which is converted into fats and deposited in the body. A decrease in tissue sensitivity to leptin [Leptin resistance] may lead to higher weight gain.

3. Insulin 

Insulin is secreted by the pancreas, whenever glucose levels in blood are increased. Insulin facilitates the movement of glucose in cells and cells use this to generate energy and excess is stored as energy reserves to be used later. Hormonal imbalance may lead to insulin resistance where the cells may not be able to utilise the glucose effectively and extra sugar in blood is signalled to be stored in the liver and then later as fat, consequently leading to weight gain.

4. Oestrogen 

Hormones and weight gain after 40 or hormones and weight gain after 50 are commonly used terms. As women age and enter the menopausal period, the ovarian cells fail to function normally, disrupting oestrogen production. Oestrogen regulates glucose and lipid metabolism, when estrogen levels drop especially in women approaching menopause, it can lead to weight gain. 

5. Cortisol 

Cortisol, or the stress hormone, is produced by the adrenal glands. It is vital for the regulation of energy and its mobilisation. Increased Cortisol levels can promote overeating,  and an increase in visceral fat deposits directly fueling weight gain.

6. Progesterone 

Progesterone levels drop as we age. Hormones and weight gain after 40 are thus directly linked. A drop in progesterone levels leads to depression and associated weight gain.

7. Melatonin 

Melatonin is secreted in the pineal gland located in the brain. It is responsible for maintaining the circadian rhythm or the sleep-wake-up cycle. The melatonin levels rise naturally at night, which induces the release of growth hormone, helping heal the body. But if the person fails to get enough sleep, the body initiates a stress response, which leads to inflammation-induced weight gain.

8. Ghrelin 

Ghrelin or the hunger hormone stimulates appetite. Secreted by the stomach, small intestine, pancreas, and brain, ghrelin hormone controls our appetite. Thus, elevated levels of ghrelin in the blood prompt us to eat more, leading to weight gain.

9. Testosterone 

Although a male hormone, testosterone is also produced in women in smaller quantities. It plays a crucial role in burning fat, strengthening muscles and bones, and increasing libido. As ovaries produce this hormone, its production gets distorted as women age, resulting in fat accumulation and hormonal weight gain.

How Lifestyle Triggers Hormonal Weight Gain? 

Weight gain can be frustrating, especially if it’s unintentional. While what we eat directly contributes to how much we weigh, there is more to this trend. Listed below are a few lifestyle factors that contribute to hormonal dysfunction and are therefore responsible for weight gain due to hormonal changes:

1. Overconsumption of Processed and Sugary Foods 

Weight gain is not just related to the quantity but also the type of food we binge upon. Consuming highly processed foods and sugary products interferes with the working of the leptin hormone. They also affect insulin production. This leads to the body becoming insulin resistant, wherein the body cells do not respond to insulin, making the high glucose levels circulating in the bloodstream, causing weight gain.

2. Less Sleep 

As night sets in, the pineal gland located in the brain starts producing the melatonin hormone. The hormone is vital to heal and rejuvenate the body. But if your lifestyle prevents you from getting a shut-eye during this time, the body initiates a stress response. This leads to inflammation-induced weight gain.

3. Sedentary Lifestyle 

A sedentary lifestyle affects three aspects of health – musculoskeletal, cardiometabolic, and mental. It also affects the functioning of the endocrine glands, including the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, and adrenal glands. Imbalance in any of the endocrine glands leads to hormonal weight gain.

4. Too Much Stress 

Cortisol or the stress hormone is secreted by the adrenal glands during times of distress. The body uses the hormone to regulate energy and mobilise it. However, persistently high levels of cortisol may promote overeating leading to weight gain due to hormonal changes.

5. Alcohol Consumption and Smoking 

Both alcohol consumption and smoking interfere with the production of testosterone and oestrogen hormones. Optimal levels of these hormones are required for proper fat burning. Therefore, improper levels of testosterone and oestrogen are directly linked to weight gain besides having other health effects.

How to Diagnose Hormonal Weight Gain?

If you have an inkling that you are piling up extra kilos despite having all checks and balances in place, it’s time to assess if it’s because of hormonal imbalance. In such situations, it is advisable to visit an endocrinologist. The medical expert, through laboratory tests and clinical history, gauges if a hormonal condition is the underlying cause of weight gain. The treatment plan advised will help manage the hormonal imbalance which is inflicting weight gain. 

Preventative Steps to Avoid Hormonal Weight Gain

The best way to avoid hormonal weight gain is to make conscious choices. These include:

  1. Improving dietary choices
  2. Increasing physical activity
  3. Getting more sleep
  4. Managing stress levels effectively
  5. Quitting smoking
  6. Limiting alcohol consumption

Foods That Control Weight Gaining Hormones

As mentioned above, diet plays a crucial role in managing body weight. Interestingly, certain foods can help control the levels of weight-gaining hormones. The diet for hormonal weight gain, when consumed in required quantities, will improve overall health by correcting hormonal imbalance. These are:

  1. Flaxseed: Flaxseed plays a crucial role in fat burning and thus, helping to maintain a healthy body weight. Rich in lignans, they help in hormone metabolism.
  2. Avocado: The American fruit is known to be rich in healthy fats. Its consumption increases the levels of leptin (the appetite-suppressing hormone) and prevents one from overeating and bingeing.
  3. Broccoli: Broccoli is known to keep leptin levels high because of its high fibre content.  
  4. Pomegranate: Pomegranate is packed with compounds that block triglycerides and prevent fat storage in the body.
  5. Green leafy vegetables: Leafy green vegetables are vital for the regulation of insulin. 
  6. Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkin seeds increase the levels of leptin which plays a crucial role in regulating and suppressing appetite.
  7. Turmeric: Turmeric is thermogenic. Thus, it raises the core temperature of the body and helps in burning more calories. It is a natural immunity booster and plays a vital role in maintaining leptin levels.
  8. Coconut oil: cooking in coconut oil is a healthy option as it helps regulate insulin hormone and reduces the chances of insulin resistance.
  9. Quinoa: It’s a gluten-free option that regulates blood sugar levels and keeps insulin in check. It has high fibre and protein content which keeps appetite-suppressing hormones high.
  10. Eggs: Eggs contain essential vitamins and minerals which are helpful in the synthesis of thyroid hormone.

Conclusion

Weight gain can be frustrating. But thankfully, hormonal weight gain is reversible if the underlying cause is diagnosed and addressed properly. Seek an appointment with an endocrinologist. Early detection and medically guided remedies will help you avoid and control further weight gains. Meanwhile, maintain a healthy lifestyle – prefer eating foods that control weight gaining hormones, sleep well, avoid stress, quit smoking, and limit your alcohol consumption.

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