What you need to know about your body’s inner workings as you get ready to shed pounds.
BY MICHAEL SCHUTZ, MD
You’ve been thinking about losing weight and the changes you need to make to your diet. What might not be on your mind: Hormones—and the role they play in regulating your weight and appetite. There are many hormones that play a role in metabolism, including:
Thyroxine is roduced in the thyroid gland, thyroxine increases your metabolism and allows you to burn more calories. Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is a common finding in those who have slow metabolism and insufficient thyroid hormone levels. It is measured with a simple blood test your physician can order. Hypothyroidism can be corrected with an oral medication that needs to be monitored by your doctor.
Cortisol is a stress hormone made in the adrenal gland and it is released when your body is under stress, increasing blood sugar and reducing your immune response. Cortisol and related medications are very helpful in treating certain kinds of inflammation, but need to be carefully monitored.
Insulin is the hormone produced by your pancreas to control serum blood sugar. The body’s response to a rise in blood sugar after eating is to produce insulin, which increases the accumulation of glucose in muscle, liver, and fat cells. Insulin resistance occurs as more body fat is stored and more sugar ingested until one becomes diabetic. Weight loss and reduction of calories will reduce insulin resistance and can improve diabetes.
Leptin is a hormone that regulates your food intake and metabolism to maintain your body weight. More leptin is released by fat cells as their fat content increases. Higher leptin levels tell your brain to decrease food intake and increase metabolism. As one becomes obese, the brain becomes resistant to higher and higher leptin levels. Thus, the brain thinks that you are not getting enough calories and increases your hunger even though you are overweight. Reducing leptin resistance is helpful in returning to a healthy balance. The same actions that lower insulin resistance also work for leptin resistance.
Some things that can reduce your leptin resistance—and promote normal hormone function for all the hormones that regulate weight—include getting regular exercise (at least 30 minutes a day) and getting adequate sleep (7-10 hours per night). A balanced diet can also reduce leptin resistance; aim for a diet high in whole grains and fiber including fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, lean proteins like fish, chicken, and non-fat yogurt.
If you are having difficulties with your metabolism, ask your doctor to check the hormones mentioned in this article. Or simply be proactive: get to the gym and get to bed on time. Be thoughtful about what you’re putting into your mouth. A doctor can help, but a proactive patient is almost always a healthier patient.
Dr. Michael Schutz is a urologist practicing at the Jersey Urology Group in Somers Point, NJ.