People who deal with obesity at any point in their lives know the most challenging part can be the judgment they feel from society. Plenty of information reminds people what obesity can cause (i.e., heart disease and high blood pressure) but not much about what causes obesity.
If you ask someone the risks of being overweight, you will get a handful of health perils, but ask someone what the connection between hormones and obesity is, and they will likely be unable to answer. Most people know that weight gain occurs when calories consumed exceed calories used. However, most people do not realize that calorie intake and calorie expenditure are not only controlled by the person consuming the calories, but also by their hormones.
People who are obese have hormone variations and resistance to hormones that appear to prevent or mitigate fat buildup. If physicians want to provide the best support for people afflicted with excess weight, they cannot ignore the connection between obesity, lifestyle choices, and hormones. Blaming lifestyle choices alone is myopic and does nothing to assist patients with proper weight management.
Hormones are chemicals produced primarily by endocrine glands and released into the bloodstream to send messages to other tissues throughout the body. Hormones play a role in everything from metabolism and mood, to reproduction and sleep cycles, and everything in between.
Endocrine glands are located in the brain and throughout the body. The intricate exchanges among the endocrine glands, hormones, and targeted tissue make up the endocrine system. Because hormones are connected to so many of the body’s functions, understanding the interactions between hormones and their effects on obesity is vital for proper treatment.
The hormones most notably connected to obesity are leptin, insulin, sex hormones, and growth hormones. These five hormones manipulate appetite, metabolism, and body fat distribution.
Fat cells produce leptin, which reduces hunger by acting on areas of the brain that control appetite. Because leptin is produced in adipose tissue, people who are overweight tend to have higher levels of leptin circulating in their blood. However, research has shown that despite having higher levels of leptin, people who are obese are not as sensitive to its effects.
Insulin is responsible for circulating glucose from the blood into surrounding tissues. This uptake of glucose ensures energy is available to tissue and organs when needed and that blood glucose levels stay within safe ranges. In cases of obesity, the tissues that take in glucose from the bloodstream can become resistant to the insulin signals, resulting in Type II diabetes.
Estrogen is a hormone produced mainly in the ovaries of pre-menopausal women, while testes of men produce androgens. Both hormones gradually decrease with age. Sex hormones influence fat distribution, which in turn affects weight-related conditions. Fat surrounding the abdomen puts individuals at greater risk of obesity-associated complications than fat in the lower half of the body.
As estrogen and androgens decrease with age, fat accumulation occurs around the abdomen and reduces around the hips and buttocks. Certain disorders in women and men can cause varying degrees of too much or too little sex hormones. Animal studies support the connection between sex hormones and the risk of obesity by showing that estrogen deficiency can lead to fat accumulation.
Growth hormones are responsible for height, muscle mass, and bone-building. An increase in leptin seems to mean a decrease in growth hormones. Since people who are obese have higher levels of leptin, growth hormones in these individuals are lower than in people with average body mass indices.
Understanding the role that hormones play in obesity is the first step in supporting healthy weight management with respect and empathy. Our clinic knows that counseling someone through weight loss requires more than just suggesting diet and exercise. We pride ourselves on our comprehensive weight management approach and inclusive atmosphere. Take the first step in managing your weight by scheduling an appointment to learn more about the connection between hormones and obesity.