Hormonal dysregulation is a term you may not have heard often — or at all — but it could be having a major effect on your life right now. It often masquerades in several different mental, emotional, and physical conditions for which doctors frequently prescribe medications.
What are some of those conditions? Well…most conditions can have hormonal dysregulation as an underlying cause. Depression. Anxiety. Mood swings. Brain fog. Weight gain/inability to lose weight. Even type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s.
That’s not to say hormonal dysregulation causes all these conditions or that you should ignore standard medical care if you experience any symptoms of any of these conditions. But before investing in expensive medical tests and medications to treat certain illnesses, you might want to check into hormonal dysregulation.
What is Hormonal Dysregulation?
Hormonal dysregulation also referred to as a hormonal imbalance, is a condition in which the hormones become unregulated. You probably don’t think about hormones very much, but they affect every area of your health.
Hormones are chemical messengers secreted by various glands and organs, such as the pituitary, adrenals, and pancreas. All the glands in your body that make these hormones work together to regulate the levels of hormones circulating throughout your body. If even one is unbalanced, it can cause major health problems in several areas of your body.
Signs and Symptoms of Hormonal Dysregulation
Symptoms of hormonal dysregulation can vary greatly depending upon which hormones are more strongly affected. Some of the most common symptoms of hormonal dysregulation include:
Unexplained Weight Gain or Weight Loss
Low sex drive
Diseases Associated With Hormonal Dysregulation
Diabetes: The body either does not produce or cannot properly use the hormone insulin.
Hypothyroidism: The thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, often causing weight gain.
Hyperthyroidism: The thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone, often causing weight loss.
Addison’s Disease: The adrenal glands produce too little cortisol, often causing extreme fatigue and weight loss.
Obesity: The fat-burning, appetite-taming hormones cannot send or receive proper signals.
Hormonal Dysregulation and Weight Gain
Hormonal dysregulation is the most common cause of weight gain and obesity. For the past 50 years, we have been so intent on trying to control our weight by counting and cutting calories that we forget that’s not our job. Our body is designed to regulate our weight, just as it regulates our heartbeat, our respiration, our digestion, and everything else.
The body is an amazingly complex biological machine that knows exactly what to do at all times. Your brain, your digestive system, and your hormones continually talk to each other through various feedback loops. Together, they synchronize the activities that automatically maintain fat at a specified level, your setpoint weight.
Your body is designed to keep you at a healthy weight. If you eat too many calories, your body burns more calories. If you eat too few calories, your body burns fewer calories. That’s how it balances itself out. The body, you see, always strives for homeostasis, a state of balance. Why, then, are you overweight or obese?
Many things can cause hormonal dysregulation, and when that happens, your hormones cannot send or receive correct signals. Your body doesn’t know how much fat you need, but since its mission is to keep you alive, it gives you more fat.
Hormonal dysregulation elevates your setpoint weight, which is the new benchmark for your weight. This is the weight your body always tries to return to no matter how little you eat or how much you exercise.
If you go on a crash diet, your body thinks you’re starving and will activate many hormones to stop that from happening. There are hormones that make you hungry, hormones that make you store fat, hormones that slow your metabolism…you get the idea. You will lose weight short term on a crash diet, but then reality will come crashing down the moment you go off the diet. As every frustrated dieter has learned, the weight comes back. And it usually brings an extra 10 or more pounds with it.
You cannot convince the body the setpoint weight is wrong by crash dieting. These hormones are too smart for that.
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Hormones that Cause Weight Gain/Loss
Many hormones influence the weight. Here are a few of the most important ones.
Leptin, produced by your fat cells, signals your brain when you’ve had enough food. As your fat stores rise, more leptin enters the bloodstream and travels to the hypothalamus in the brain, which is the control center of the metabolism. The hypothalamus receives the signal, making you feel full and fidgety so that you unconsciously eat less and exercise more.
When your levels of body fat fall, so do your levels of leptin, and the brain sends a signal encouraging you to eat more and exercise less. The levels of leptin in your bloodstream correspond to the level of body fat, so if you are overweight or obese, you already have sufficient levels of leptin. If you are wondering why you are still hungry all the time, it is because you suffer hormonal dysregulation. Specifically, you have leptin resistance in which the hypothalamus cannot receive leptin’s signal that you have enough fat and that you’re full.
Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is one of the most important weapons in your body’s defense of its setpoint weight. When you go on a crash diet, your brain signals an increase of ghrelin to get you to eat more food. Traditional starvation dieting only makes you hungrier, which is why most of them fail. Plus, research shows levels of ghrelin remain elevated for several months after a starvation diet ends. This could partly explain why many people gain weight so quickly after they go off their diets. Again, this is a result of hormonal dysregulation of ghrelin.
Hormonal dysregulation of insulin is one of the biggest causes of an elevated setpoint weight. Insulin, produced by the pancreas, is needed to usher glucose into cells to be used for energy.
When your body digests sugars and starches, it breaks them down into glucose that gets absorbed into your bloodstream. This raises your blood sugar levels, automatically spiking insulin levels to take care of the glucose. If you consume a steady diet of sugars and starches, your blood sugar levels stay elevated longer than they should, and insulin is continually being pumped out. Over time, your cells will develop insulin resistance, and will no longer accept glucose.
Insulin must still remove glucose from the bloodstream, so it takes it to the fat cells. Your fat cells will always accept more energy for storage. This begins the vicious cycle of high insulin, high blood glucose levels, and more fat storage. If this cycle continues long enough, all the non-fat cells in your body send distress signals to the brain that they are starving. Your body responds by raising its setpoint weight.
Hormonal dysregulation involving stress hormones, particularly cortisol, is another major cause of an elevated setpoint weight and weight gain.
As part of your body’s “fight-or-flight” response, the adrenal glands release cortisol to help the body cope with short-term stress. Cortisol triggers the release of insulin to get glucose into the cells for energy needed to fight or flee. The glucose is burned off during the crisis, and then the body returns to normal. That’s the way the stress response is supposed to work — short-term, and only for life-and-death situations.
But today, many people treat everything as if it is a hungry tiger chasing them. They are chronically stressed. If you’re chronically stressed, you have chronically elevated cortisol levels, leading to increased insulin, leading to insulin resistance. As we discussed earlier, insulin resistance causes excess glucose to be stored in your fat cells, which not only cause weight gain, but it also elevates your setpoint weight because your nonfat cells are starving.
Causes of Hormonal Dysregulation
There are several known causes of hormonal dysregulation and weight gain. Here are a few of them.
Standard American Diet
The standard American diet of ultra-processed foods, fast foods, starchy carbs, and refined sugars is one of the biggest causes of hormonal dysregulation.
Ultra-Processed Foods: These foods are manufactured concoctions created to look and taste like real foods but that, in fact, bear no resistance to the animal or plant source from which they supposedly originated. Ultra-processed foods contain substances not used in culinary preparation, such as additives, emulsifiers, and preservatives. They are also devoid of fiber and most nutrients, though manufacturers will often add essential nutrients to these products.
A recent study showed more than 60% of the average American’s diet consists of ultra-processed foods, which include potato chips, soups, sauces, gravies, breakfast cereals, baked goods, and frozen dinners. Weight gain has been linked to over-consumption of ultra-processed foods, and this is undoubtedly because they cause hormonal dysregulation that elevates setpoint weight.
Refined Sugars and Starchy Carbs: Over-consumption of both of these cause elevated insulin levels eventually leading to insulin resistance. This causes hormonal dysregulation of insulin, leading to an elevated setpoint weight.
Many studies show a link between chronic stress and weight gain. This is because chronic stress causes hormonal dysregulation of cortisol, leading to elevated blood cortisol levels. Elevated cortisol levels have been shown to increase fat accumulation in the stomach area.
Sleep deprivation has also been found to increase the risk of weight gain. Studies show people who don’t get enough sleep have increased levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and decreased levels of leptin, the fullness hormone. It is easy to see how this combination can easily cause overeating, and why so many sleep-deprived individuals raid the fridge in the middle of the night.
Exposure to Environmental Toxins
Hormonal dysregulation and exposure to environmental toxins often go hand-in-hand. Toxic pollutants and chemicals surround you on a daily basis. Air pollution. Pesticides. Herbicides. Chemicals in household cleaners. Air fresheners. All these — and more — are toxins that can cause hormonal dysregulation. Though you can never totally escape environmental toxins, you can try to minimize your exposure to them as much as possible.
Healing Hormonal Dysregulation
Fortunately, healing hormonal dysregulation is not that difficult. All it takes is the decision to start eating more SANE foods and fewer inSANE ones. Eating SANEly is incredibly easy, too. There is no deprivation, no calorie counting, and no hunger. Just delicious food that has been scientifically proven to heal hormonal dysregulation and lower setpoint weight.
Here are the 4 SANE food groups:
10+ servings per day
The fiber in non-starchy veggies fill you up fast and keep you full for hours, while the nutrients nourish your cells, letting them know it’s okay to release the fat.
3-5 servings per day, 30-55 grams per meal
Nutrient-dense protein also fills you up fast and keeps you full for a long time. It also revs up your metabolism and helps build muscle. Plus, protein is almost impossible for your body to store as fat.
3-6 servings per day,
Whole food fats are satisfying and contrary to what you may have learned years ago, eating fat will not make you fat. In fact, if you replace sugars and starchy carbs with whole-food fats, your body will switch over to burning fat as its preferred fuel source. Before you know it, it will be burning your fat stores.
0-3 servings per day
Low-fructose fruit makes a great after-dinner dessert or between-meal snack.
Try to eat foods from the first 3 food groups at every meal, and remember, it is not necessary to try to change your diet overnight. In fact, making a drastic change in your diet is the surest way to become discouraged. Instead, just make a few small changes at a time. Progress, not perfection should be your daily mantra.
One small SANE step at a time will get you where you need to be. Before you know it, hormonal dysregulation will be a thing of the past, and you’ll feel GREAT!
Next Step: End Hormonal Dysregulation with SANE
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