In my last blog post, I discussed three primary sex hormones: testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen. But that was just the beginning of our hormone discussion.
You may be surprised that there are many other hormones that our bodies depend on for short-term and long-term optimal health. In part II of my blog series, The Thing About Hormones, I’ll dive into Insulin, Cortisol, Thyroid, Melatonin, and Vitamin D and why they are so important.
If you need a refresher on hormones in general, hormones are chemical messengers secreted directly into the blood. The blood then transports them to our organs and tissues to exert their functions. Let’s dive in.
I talk a lot about insulin. What’s so important about it again? In Jason Fung’s book, “The Obesity Code,”–he states–” I can make anybody fat. How? By prescribing insulin.” And he’s right. It won’t matter if you have the willpower or that you exercise daily. It won’t matter what you choose to eat. You will inevitably get fat. It’s simply a matter of enough insulin and enough time.
Insulin treatment in type 2 diabetes leads to weight gain. Always. And even when calorie intake stays the same. This phenomenon happens with insulin injections and pills designed to get the body to produce more insulin over time. It doesn’t matter how you increase the insulin, but increasing it will always lead to weight gain.
So, I can make you fat with insulin. Conversely, I can make you thin too. But how? As insulin is reduced to deficient levels, we should expect weight loss.
Type 1 Diabetes is not very similar to type 2 at all. In fact, they are totally different diseases.
Type 1 is an autoimmune disease characterized by low insulin. In ancient times, a Greek physician described it as “a melting down of flesh and limbs into urine.” As a result, no matter how many calories the patient ingests, they cannot gain any weight. Until the discovery of insulin, this disease was almost universally fatal.
Type 1 diabetics need insulin to survive.
Type 2 is associated with high insulin and high blood sugar, causing the body to become resistant to insulin.
In general, hormones are central to understanding obesity. This is because everything about the human metabolism, including the body set weight, is hormonally regulated.
- Hormones tell us when we are hungry (ghrelin).
- Hormones tell us when we are full (leptin).
Obesity is a hormonal, not a caloric imbalance.
Calories are nothing more than the proximate cause of obesity. And so naturally, we blame them. Eating more calories leads to weight gain, and eating less leads to weight loss. BUT, it isn’t sustainable unless we fix the underlying cause. Have you ever lost weight only to gain it back later? Yes, me too! I’ve lost and gained the same 10-15 lbs numerous times.
Another way to make people fat is to prescribe cortisol (a.k.a prednisone). Cortisol is used to treat many diseases such as Asthma, Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Cardiac Arrest.
Here’s the thing. Prolonged cortisol will also lead to elevated glucose, which leads to–you guessed it–prolonged high insulin.
In the short term, insulin and cortisol have opposite effects. Under high insulin (i.e., mealtimes), the body stores energy in the form of fat. Cortisol, on the other hand, prepares the body for action and mobilizes energy for use.
Something quite different happens under long-term psychological stress (a.k.a adrenal fatigue). Glucose levels remain high, and there is no resolution of the stressor. So what does that cause? Long-term stress leads to long-term elevated cortisol levels, leading to increased glucose, high insulin, and then those pesky extra pounds!
Contrary to popular belief, sitting in front of a TV or scrolling on your phone is a poor way to relieve stress. Instead, stress relief is an active process.
Long-term elevated cortisol levels are a problem for all of us with adrenal fatigue. Weight loss is hard until we fix this! And while cortisol is energy and we need it, we don’t want too much. If we can regulate it, we can improve our energy and then, in time, insulin and weight.
Let me touch on a couple more hormones.
Stress leads to the production of reverse t3. This process is the purposeful slowing down of the metabolism to save fat stores for later. Why? Because your body senses danger. This makes your labs look OK, and it means your TSH is fine.
More often than not, you do have plenty of thyroid hormones; it’s just the wrong type of thyroid hormone. This “wrong” type of thyroid hormone leads to low energy, difficulty losing weight, and other hypothyroid-related symptoms. The key to fixing this is by regulating the adrenals and improving the stress response.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted at night time. It has the opposite effect of cortisol. Cortisol leads to wakefulness. Melatonin leads to sleepiness. Both exhibit a circadian rhythm, and they mirror each other. Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant, so it’s important to regulate.
It sounds like a vitamin, right? But it’s not a vitamin; it’s a prohormone, which is a substance that our body converts to a hormone, so it’s a hormone. In fact, unlike other vitamins, only 10% of the vitamin D the body needs comes from food (i.e., dairy and fatty fish), and the rest our body makes for itself. It is a hormone produced by the kidneys that control blood calcium and the immune system.
While effective at decreasing skin cancer, sunscreen negatively impacts vitamin D. Too little vitamin D means the bones will not be able to grow strong, leading to problems like rickets for children or osteoporosis for adults.
Low vitamin D levels can also cause a poorly functioning immune system, cardiovascular disease, depression, development of diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. It has also been linked to certain types of cancer.
It is very common to have low vitamin D. As a matter of fact; it’s almost always low when I check it in my patients.
When it’s normal, I ask my patient how much vitamin D are you taking because it’s rarely normal without supplementation. However, with that said, it is a hormone, and too much can be problematic, so don’t take a bunch of vitamin D without monitoring by your physician.
Stay tuned for a third blog post in this series, where I’ll discuss some of the “happy” hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine!
As always, I’m here to help when and if you are ready. But there is much you can do on your own too.
- Step 1– Stay informed! Congrats, you are doing just that by reading to the end of this post.
- Step 2– Take a few deep breaths. Let your body know it is all OK; you aren’t in danger!
- Step 3– Do something just for you today. Take a walk, meditate, write in a journal, or take a moment to reflect on something you love about yourself.
The little things matter and add up. They really do.
In my Energy Accelerator program, I dive deep into how one can up-level their health and live their lives to their fullest potential.
Whether the condition relates to stress, hormonal imbalances, sleep deprivation, inflammation, blood sugar stabilization, or the thyroid, the first step is looking at and resetting the adrenal glands. I also discuss 5 modifiable lifestyle factors in detail and share step-by-step instructions on how to get all 5 back on track.
If you’re tired of living on a merry-go-round with your health, then this course is for you. Join me today and take the very first step in resetting your adrenals and regaining control over your life!