The Skinny on Fat – And the Role Hormones and Obesogens Play
More to Weight Management than Diet and Exercise
We have all heard that obesity is on the rise as “The next epidemic” in America. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, nearly two out of every three Americans are overweight or obese. That’s nearly seventy percent of the population currently at an unhealthy weight. Clearly, something is out of kilter with the way Americans eat, right?
Well, yes. But, it comes down to more than just calories consumed vs. calories burned!
Most often, the blame for this epidemic gets placed on poor eating habits such as too many French fries, not enough vegetables. This philosophy is no doubt frustrating for people who are making lifestyle changes, eating better, and exercising — yet still not losing weight.
Recent studies, however, may be able to shed some light on this. The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity along with many research studies reports that while eating a balanced diet is vital in healthy weight management, hormones may also be a factor.
Hormones are chemical messengers in the body that work much like a switchboard operator, transferring information and directing cells. When hormones become out of balance (and there are many ways for this to happen), then weight control can become hard to manage.
How Do Hormones Become Out of Balance?
Hormones can become out of balance in two primary ways.
1. Inability to metabolize hormones. This is becoming more common and is caused by a myriad of factors including genetics, stress, diet and lifestyle. These may all contribute to an excess of hormones in the body. This would be considered an endogenous, or, internally influenced hormone imbalance. It is caused by an insufficient internal biological function (detoxification). Long term circulation of hormones can lead to an excess of certain hormones, particularly estrogen, in the body tissue.
2. Exposure to excess hormones via the environment. Additionally, exposure to exogenous (external hormones) or hormone like substances can throw the body off kilter. Most of us are exposed to many hormone like substances on a daily basis. The extra hormones may directly contribute to weight gain. These substances, which are actually able to mimic hormones in the body, are now being called “obesogens”, a term coined by biologist and UC Irvine professor and researcher, Bruce Blumberg. Obesogens may be a contributing factor in why so many people today are struggling with frustrating and stubborn weight gain.
Examples of EDCs/obesogens that many of us encounter every day include:
- Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides found on conventional produce and in tap water. Instead, try to buy organic, or at least wash produce thoroughly. Be sure to drink pure filtered water.
- Conventionally raised meat and dairy which often contain hormones and antibiotics. Instead, buy organic or hormone and antibiotic free.
- Plastic cans and bottles, many of which contain Biphenyl-A (BPA). Instead, use glass jars or stainless steel water bottles. Avoid leaving plastic water bottles in the sun or exposing to heat, especially microwaves.
- Non-stick Pans (Teflon pans), which contain Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Instead, use cast iron, stoneware, ceramic, or hard anodized aluminum (processed so that aluminum cannot leech into food).
- Vinyl products and air fresheners, which contain Phthalates. Instead, use natural products.
- Creams and lotions containing estrogenic ingredients like parabens. Instead use natural products and oils. See Energetic Nutrition’s all natural EDC free RegenaCell anti-aging cream.
- Common cleaning chemicals which omit toxic fumes. Instead use natural, non-toxic formulas. You can even make your own cleaning supplies.
Why Do Obesogens Make Us Fat?
After studying endocrine disrupting chemicals/obesogens, Blumberg and other researchers have concluded that obesogens are actually able to disrupt normal function of metabolic hormones. Metabolic hormones are produced in the endocrine system, and are responsible for a wide range of functions in the body. Metabolic hormones do everything from regulating hunger, to deciding where and how body fat is stored and/or burned in the body.
The endocrine system consists of:
- The hypothalamus and pituitary gland, also known as the “master glands” because they control much of the other endocrine gland functions.
- The thyroid gland, which regulates metabolism, temperature, and weight
- The adrenal glands, which moderate mental and physical stress.
- The reproductive organs or, gonads (testes/ovaries), which produce sex hormones including testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone.
- The pancreas, responsible for blood sugar regulation and enzyme production.
- The pineal gland, responsible for secreting melatonin, the “sleep” hormone.
Obesogens affect the endocrine system in several ways
According to Blumberg’s study, obesogens are actually able to target signaling proteins to tell a growing fetus (yes, it really does matter what you eat and what you are exposed to while pregnant) to make more fat cells.
This can have lifelong consequences, and increase the likelihood of body fat accumulation as a person ages. It can also make it more difficult for a person to lose excess weight. This may be a key factor in the rising childhood obesity epidemic.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals can promote weight gain and obesity because they increase the number of a person’s fat cells. This can change the amount of calories burned at rest, and impact the energy balance and the metabolisms of ghrelin and leptin, the chemicals which control hunger and satiety.
Estrogen and Weight Gain
Many Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals/obesogens, including those listed above, can also be known as xenoestrogens, or substances that mimic estrogen in the body. Xenoestrogens work by docking onto estrogen receptor sites in the body, and in doing so, can actually mimic estrogen.
This can create a circumstance of too much estrogen, also known as estrogen dominance. It is important to note that both women and men can be estrogen dominant. Estrogen Dominance can occur as a result of too much estrogen, or as a result of insufficient progesterone, or both.
Symptoms of estrogen dominance include:
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Adrenal fatigue
- Excess weight, particularly in the abdomen and chest
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Uterine fibroid tumors
- Estrogen positive cancers
- Prostate problems
- PMS and/or painful cramping
- Irregular or heavy menstruation.
Estrogen dominance can play an important role in stubborn weight gain, and likewise, weight gain plays an important role in estrogen dominance. Excess weight, particularly around the abdomen, thighs, and the back of the arms are common in people who are estrogen dominant. When a person is overweight, often excess estrogen is produced by a process in which an enzyme called aromatase converts adrenal steroids (hormones) into estrogen.
Then, in a cruel twist of biological fate, that estrogen prompts the formation of more fat cells, and the cycle perpetuates itself. This can be especially troublesome for men and women in middle age, as hormone production shifts from the gonadal glands to other parts of the body, including the adrenal gland and adipose (fat) tissue.
Because the body is trying to find ways to maintain adequate hormone production as part of the aging process, it may hold onto body fat since body fat can synthesize hormone production.
Symptoms of progesterone imbalance include:
- Hot flashes
- Weight gain
- Low libido
- Breast tenderness
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Menopausal symptoms
Bioidentical progesterone can help:
- Have a calming effect
- Enhance moods
- Normalize sleep
- Increase sex drive
- Use fat for energy
- Regulate fluid balance
- Reduce symptoms of fibrocystic breasts
- Decrease the risk of osteoporosis
- Stabilize blood sugar, thyroid function, and mineral balance
OVERWEIGHT = EXCESS ESTROGEN = MORE FAT STORAGE
Stress Plays a Part
Also important to consider is stress. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland, blocks weight loss. This is a basic biological function intended to protect us from starvation. When we experience high levels of stress, we produce high levels of cortisol, and our bodies store fat, sort of like an emergency backup plan.
So if you’re leading a high stress lifestyle, and wondering why you can shed those pesky pounds despite your best efforts, finding a way to de-stress is a must.
Creating Hormone Balance to Support a Healthy Weight
There are many components to a successful weight management program, including a healthy diet, exercise, stress management, and hormone balance. If EDCs/xenoestrogens and/or poor biological estrogen metabolism are contributing to hormone imbalance and excess fat storage in your body, then ensuring you take the steps to restore hormone balance is a must.
This means eliminating xenoestrogens from your everyday life, limiting phytoestrogens, and supplementing with high quality products designed to support healthy estrogen metabolism and hormone balance.
Weight loss can be a very complicated and frustrating topic. As we begin to understand the important roles that hormones play in weight loss, however, it becomes easier to better tackle the increasing problem of obesity in America. If you are dealing with frustrating weight gain and can’t seem to shed the extra pounds, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone.
Then, take the information provided above, and put it to good use! Diet, exercise, and healthy hormone balance, along with avoiding those substances known to disturb hormones and health, will go a long way to living a happy, healthy, energetic lifestyle.
The Role of Diet in Balancing Hormones and Losing Weight
It is important to note the critical link between insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas to bring glucose into cells and balance blood sugar) and body fat. Many people today are on a low fat, high carbohydrate diet that includes an abundance of processed foods like bread, pasta, crackers, etc. When we consume more carbohydrates than our body can burn, our blood sugar rises.
Over time, this creates what is known as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance promotes fat storage and long term “communication damage” to insulin receptor sites, meaning that if you have become insulin resistant, even the best diet will likely not be enough to shed the pounds.
To counter insulin resistance, a low carbohydrate diet high in non-starchy vegetables, lean protein, and a moderate amount of good quality fat, along with moderate daily exercise is recommended.
Products to Support Healthy Estrogen Metabolism
Progesta-Care Complete also includes Prognenolone and 7-Keto DHEA and can be used by those who are estrogen dominant and/or suffering from fibroid and other women’s fibrosis conditions. It can also be used for general progesterone supplementation.
Connelly, A., Zeligs, M, . (2000). All About DIM. New York: Avery a Member of Penguin Putnam Inc.
Lee, J. (2004). What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause. New York: Time Warner Book Group.
University of California, Irvine. (March 2009). Endocrine Disrupters as Obesogens. PubMed Central.
White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. (May 2010). Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation. LetsMove.gov