You may have seen a lot of hype recently on TV shows like Dr. Oz or in New York Times best seller lists about being hormonally imbalanced. But what does this mean? Can it actually have an impact on weight gain or weight loss? The answer is simply yes. Your hormones control every process that occurs in your body, which includes maintaining weight, gaining weight, or losing weight. This information is paramount for taking a proactive stance on your health and fitness. Being hormonally imbalanced can be holding you back from attaining these goals.
The four horsemen of fat management are insulin, cortisol, testosterone, and growth hormone. Of these 4 key hormones, insulin is the ringleader. If you can manage your insulin levels, it helps to bring the others into balance. In general, when insulin levels are high, testosterone and growth hormone will be low. Chronic elevation of insulin results in chronically low testosterone and growth hormone. This results in fat deposition in certain areas of the body, reduced muscle mass, lowered immunity, reduced tissue regeneration, and many symptoms as listed below. In addition to these four, excess estrogen can bring you into hormone imbalance as well. This is a common problem as many environmental toxins we come into contact with are exogenous estrogens.
To start, below is a list of basic yes or no questions. If most days you have the experience or feeling, circle Yes. If not, circle No.
I crave sweets during the day.(Yes/No)
I am irritable if I miss a meal.(Yes/No)
I need coffee to get myself going in the morning.(Yes/No)
I get lightheaded if I miss a meal.(Yes/No)
Eating relieves fatigue.(Yes/No)
I feel shaky or jittery during the day.(Yes/No)
I am agitated easily or nervous.(Yes/No)
I forget things I should remember.(Yes/No)
My vision gets blurry.(Yes/No)
I feel tired after meals.(Yes/No)
Eating sweets does not relieve sugar cravings.(Yes/No)
I always want some desert after a meal.(Yes/No)
My waist girth is equal/larger than my hip girth.(Yes/No)
I have difficulty losing weight.(Yes/No)
If you answered Yes to more than half of these questions, then it is very likely that you have a hormonal imbalance due to poor blood sugar regulation. Correcting insulin resistance is the first and key step to addressing all other hormonal imbalances, such as excess cortisol and estrogen, and decreased growth hormone and testosterone.
The following lists showcase symptoms that are common with each individual hormonal imbalance. Typically a trend will be seen in one area or another. I am illustrating these symptoms so that you may see how broad and varied the effects of hormonal imbalance are.
Age spots and wrinkling
Abnormal hair growth on face or chin (women)
Vision changes or cataracts
Infertility or irregular menses
Shrinking or sagging breasts
High cholesterol, high triglycerides, or high blood pressure
Burning feet at night
Water retention in the face (puffiness)
Poor memory, concentration
Fat gain around love handles and abdomen
Fat over triceps
Overweight, weight gain, obesity
Fatigue after eating (high carbohydrates)
Type 2 diabetes
Sleep disruption or deprivation
Wrinkling, thinning skin, or skin that has lost its fullness
Infertility or absent menses (not related to menopause)
Feeling wired at night
Loss of muscle tone in arms and legs
Cold hands or feet
Water retention in face (puffiness)
Poor memory, concentration
Loss of libido
Depression, anxiety, irritability, or seasonal affective disorder
A “buffalo hump” (fat on back of neck and upper back)
Difficulty building or maintaining muscle
Loss of bone density or osteoporosis
Difficulty falling asleep
Difficulty staying asleep (waking between 2am-4am)
Irritable bowel or frequent gas and bloating
Spider or varicose veins
Heavy menstrual bleeding
PMS, with breast tenderness, water retention, bloating, swelling, weight gain
Fibrocystic breast disease
Breast growth, prostate disease, erectile dysfunction (men)
Irritability, mood swings, or anxiety
Headaches or migraines
High alcohol consumption
Allergies, autoimmune disease
Fat gain around hips (women)
Current use of hormone replacement or birth control pills
There are many similar symptoms between the different hormonal imbalances. In addition to symptoms, it is common to see fat accumulation in certain areas of the body with these imbalances. Excess insulin will not only encourage your body to store glucose and fat, but will actually block fat burning, especially around your abdomen. Insulin will also cause water retention, giving you a puffy look. Excess insulin secretion can result from consuming too many nutrient-poor, processed carbohydrates, insufficient protein and fat intake, insufficient fiber intake, chronic stress, under-exercising, and over-exercising. As I mentioned before, insulin is the ringleader to hormonal imbalance.
Excess cortisol is extremely destructive to your muscle tissue. As your body tries to adapt to chronic stress, which contributes to this imbalance, your metabolism is slowed by depression of the thyroid. Cortisol also decreases the happy hormone, serotonin, in the brain causing you to crave high amounts of carbohydrates and fats. This is a disaster for your midsection, as it forces you to accumulate abdominal fat. Excess cortisol can also affect insulin response causing hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
Excess estrogen, also called estrogen dominance, will present differently between women who are menopausal and those who are not. Fat will accumulate around the midsection in women who are menopausal, and around hips and thighs in women who are not. Either way, estrogen dominance will cause toxic fat gain and water retention. Environmental estrogens consumed from pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones used in foods, plastic food ware, birth control pills and even chemical laden make-up precipitate this.
As I mentioned above, when insulin is chronically elevated, testosterone and growth hormone will also be chronically lowered. Therefore, when it comes to your diet the main thing to address is regulating your insulin levels. This includes lowering the amount of sugar and processed carbohydrates one consumes and understanding how to reduce and manage stress in your life.
How many of the above symptoms are you experiencing? You could have a hormone imbalance and this could be preventing you from attaining your health and fitness goals. If so, it is advisable to see your health care practitioner for further testing (as hormone levels can be tested) and receive assistance on how to optimally balance them.
I am super excited to be here helping educate people about health and fitness! I'm a Doctor of Chiropractic and have a Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology along with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology. I'm also certified as a ACSM Exercise Specialist. See my profile page for more information!