Are you suffering from stubborn or impossible weight-loss? Forget about extreme diets & extreme workouts. That approach is not the answer! Functional Medicine digs deeper than that to uncover the underlying root-causes of stubborn weight-loss and to deliver to each individual wishing to lose weight and keep if off for life an advanced strategy that deals with the problem at a biochemical and cellular level, instead of superficially and ineffectively with just calorie-counting and sweating.
If you’re one of the millions feeling discouraged at how difficult it has become to you to shed those extra pounds, you’re probably looking for the right answers to your problem in the wrong places. Well, whilst exercising more and reducing food intake works for some people – especially those in their adolescence & twenties- the fact of the matter is that for most people a complete different approach than just dieting and exercising is required, as generally metabolically and hormonally things get a bit more complicated to solve after our teenage years.
Oh, yes, it is then a matter of balancing the individual’s hormones, and for this purpose, depending on the hormones, the strategies need to vary.
THE ROLE OF HORMONES IN FAT STORAGE AND FAT BURNING
The human body is a complex machine that regulates its thousands of daily activities (sleep, relaxation, appetite, libido, energy production, fertility, temperature regulation, healing of injuries, immunity, nutrient assimilation, etc.) through the action of hormones.
There are several main hormones that play a crucial role in fat burning and fat storage. These hormones are:
1. Cortisol (adrenal hormone)
2. Estrogen & Progesterone (ovarian & adrenal hormones)
3. T4 & T3 (Thyroid hormones)
4. Insulin (pancreatic hormone)
These hormones are secreted by their corresponding glands in their appropriate concentrations when the whole body is in a state of internal balance. If a gland becomes overwhelmed due to stress (alcohol consumption, prolonged use of pharmaceutical drugs, chronic emotional or physical stress, nutrient depletion, inflammation, genetic variations, untreated bacterial or yeast infections, poor sleep, etc.), its production of hormones will be impaired or the hormone produced will be of poor quality.
In a state of internal balance, where there is good management of stress, sufficient restorative sleep, absence of infections, a healthy microbiome, no heavy toxic burden, optimum nutrition and regular appropriate exercise, the endocrine system will produce sufficient hormones to promote efficient fat burning, minimize unnecessary fat storage, and maintain a healthy metabolic activity throughout the various challenges of life. Age will be a crucial factor as the older we grow the less functional the various systems and organs of the body become. This is however no excuse to become unhealthy, as now we know that all hormones can be replaced, the adrenals can be supported and tonified, the pancreas can be kept young and healthy, and stress can be reduced and properly managed.
Let’s see the role of these main hormones in fat storage and fat burning, one by one:
Insulin is our main fat storage hormone. It promotes weight gain but also makes us become more hungry and eager to eat. (1)
Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. Chronically elevated due to chronic stress it elevates blood glucose chronically. This in turn causes hyperinsulinemia. High insulin then results in greater fat storage than fat burning.
This is a sex hormone present in both men and women. Some of its impressive 400 activities in the human body are to increase metabolic rate, improve insulin sensitivity, and affect fluid regulation . (2) High or low estrogen can cause the body to become overweight by altering thyroid function, creating food cravings, dysregulating glucose and insulin levels temporarily or permanently, and promoting excess fat storage and water retention. (3) Estrogen dominance affects both men and women alike.
Testosterone has an important role in the regulation of glucose. When testosterone is elevated in women, it lowers the levels of glucose in the blood, a metabolic event that will in turn raise insulin output. Chronic elevation of insulin leads to insulin resistance, and insulin resistance causes excess fat to be stored in the adipose tissue. This is a common pattern in most women with PCOs, for example.
Low testosterone causes abdominal obesity in men. Difficult or impossible weight-loss in men is common with deficient free testosterone, especially in the presence of excess estrogen.
Since testosterone has been shown to lower blood sugar levels, The American Endocrine Society now recommends measurement of testosterone in all male patients with type II diabetes. (4)
This hormone promotes weight loss, increases lean body mass, and promotes insulin sensitivity. Low levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) can also contribute to undesirable fat accumulation in men and women. (5) Levels of DHEA will go down in the presence of high stress (cortisol).
This hormone is present in both men and women. In abnormal levels it hampers thyroid function promoting fat storage and slowing down the metabolism.
Progesterone has a very important role in potentiating the positive effects of oestrogen, like for example its action in improving insulin sensitivity.
Progesterone is also a natural diuretic that when in high or low levels will lead to fluid retention and bloating.
THE PROBLEM WITH EXCESS BODY FAT
Excess body fat is not only unattractive. It can also be lethal by increasing the risk for heart disease, dyslipidaemia, diabetes, and cancer. Excess abdominal fat is particularly dangerous and if you already have love handles, or a pot belly, or any excess fat around the middle, know that your body is currently dealing with chronic inflammation and that this constant “fire” in your body has a devastating effect in all your cells, tissues, organs, and systems simultaneously.
Excess fat around the middle is usually caused by high cortisol levels due to chronic, unmanaged stress. Excess fat around the hips and thighs, is usually caused by issues with oestrogen. A pot-belly –common in men- is due to liver problems.
The underlying cause of obesity and stubborn weight-loss is thus hormonal and the solution is hormonal regulation.
Having said this, the gut needs to be healthy if you wish to convert and activate your hormones properly.
THE FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE SOLUTION
In order to help my clients to lose weight and maintain a healthy body weight after their transformation, I investigate their levels of thyroid and sex hormones with functional lab tests first. I also check whether there is insulin resistance and order a lipid fractionation and cardiovascular health profile to understand the extent of low chronic inflammation and the impact of their diet on their metabolism and their cardiovascular system. Because stress dysregulates cortisol and cortisol is such a problem in general when out of balance, I check their stress levels with an Adrenal Stress Profile as well.
With obesity or stubborn weight-loss, the gut microbiome will be altered. I use an advanced gut health stool test to understand and address any digestive function imbalance as a crucial aspect of the weight-loss program. Needless to say that carefully refining their diet and lifestyle is of capital importance too.
All these factors must be addressed in order to reach the desired goal.
Weight-loss is a journey that revolves around the spiritual theme of self-love, practicing the art of putting oneself first without fear or reservation, and learning to feel deserving of the best things and opportunities in life. Functional medicine helps to address the biochemical imbalances in the physical body that result from this long-term inner and outer disconnection from unconditional love.
By recovering optimum functionality of the various affected organs/tissues in the body, the mind regains confidence and the heart experiences the power of love again. Healing is then complete.
1.Land, Siim – Metabolic Autophagy, pg. 244 ; Middletown DE, 2020
2. Sex Hormone Effects on Fluid Regulation – Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2008 Jul; 36(3): 152–159.
3. Abate N, Haffner SM, Garg A, Peshock RM, Grundy SM. Sex steroid hormones, upper body obesity, and insulin resistance.J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Oct;87(10):4522-7.
4. Dardone, P., et al., “Update: hypogonadotropic hypogonadism in type 2 diabetes and obesity” – Jour Clin Endo and Met 2011
5. Villareal DT, Holloszy JO. Effect of DHEA on abdominal fat and insulin action in elderly women and men: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2004 Nov 10;292(18):2243-8.