Hard to shift abdominal fat may not simply be a case of eating too much and moving too little. Hormones can have a profound impact on how much and where we store our weight, and for some of us not matter how hard we try -we just can’t shift the pooch until our hormone imbalances are addressed.
People are different and our weight loss journeys are individual too. Some people lose weight more easily than others and genetics, environment as well as personal characteristics can play a role in this. We all know by now the risk factors in having a large waist to hip ratio (greater than 0.85 for women and 0.90 for men) -ranging from increased cardiovascular disease to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes as well as many other chronic disease states. But let’s be realistic here, if family be too. However that doesn’t preclude you from making it a smaller apple (under 34 “waist for women and 38” for men) and reaping the health benefits.
Dietary changes such as cutting down on alcohol, sugar, junk food as well as addressing any food sensitivities which may be causing bloating and IBS can all help. As can repopulating the gut with probiotics to increase the friendly bacteria present there.
For other people, mixing up their exercise routine can yield great results. High Intensity Training workouts (HIT) have been found to be particularly effective in reducing abdominal fat compared to lower intensity due to it stimulating the release of Lipolylic hormones that aid in breaking down fat and elevating the metabolism. But what if you have done all of this and you still cant shift the stubborn belly fat?
One area to look at is your hormonal balance. Can hormones really be responsible for weight gain?
Cortisol and adrenaline are secreted when we are under stress and at the appropriate times performs a vital function in preparing us for fight or flight. Problems begin when stress becomes constant and chronic leading to elevated Cortisol levels, over taxation of the adrenals and the development of insulin resistance- all of which lead to stored abdominal fat. On a very simplistic level, cortisol tends to promote abdominal fat storage to protect vital organs, on top of that when our fight or flight instincts are activated, lower priority processes such as digestion are not given priority.
Chronic stress can also trigger insulin resistance. When the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline flood the bloodstream, extra energy from glucose is also produced. But if the cells don’t need the extra energy (i.e. you are not having to run for your life) then the cells over time, can become resistant leading to hyper-glycaemia and unchecked the risk of Type 2 diabetes rises steeply.
Stress also often leads to insomnia. Numerous studies have shown a direct correlation between sleep duration and obesity. Seven hours seems to be the optimal for most adults.
Oestrogen and Testosterone…
Both men and women produce Testosterone and Oestrogen in varying amount but an imbalance of either of these hormones can lead to weight gain, particularly in the abdominal area. Oestrogen favours fat storage in the lower part of the body which is why women tend to store fat differently to men. However especially in menopausal women a thickening of the waistline is associated with decreasing oestrogen levels. In men, there is also a correlation between excess abdominal fat and lower testosterone. With studies showing a chicken and egg situation here because abdominal fat may also lower testosterone as well as it being a symptom of it.
Thyroid imbalance can also affect weight with an overactive leading to weight loss and an underactive leading to weight gain. The Thyroid is also responsible for many processes in the body from regulating metabolism to reproduction and weight gain and loss. In Hypo-Thyroidism the function of the Thyroid or the effectiveness of the T3 and T4 is compromised. This can lead to a range of symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain and cold intolerance, dry skin and thinning of the outer third of the eyebrows. However Thyroid may not in itself be responsible for weight gain in just the stomach area, other factors such as diet and Oestrogen/Testosterone levels may be at play here too and do often occur together. Rarely with severe Thyroid disease ‘Myxoedema’ can occur when fluid builds up in the tissues is giving the appearance of excessive fat – but this an uncommon yet serious complication.
Serotonin is mostly produced in the gut and in much smaller amounts in the central nervous system from an amino acid called Tryptophan. It doesn’t just help with mood regulation such as in the case of anxiety and depression, it also helps regulate intestinal movements, muscle contraction, body temperature, sleep and energy and platelet clotting.
It is easily depleted by consistent over consumption of alcohol, drugs, sugar and carbohydrates as these substances temporarily raise serotonin levels then we crash after. This may be why when we feel tired or low we crave these sorts of foods.
Peripheral Serotonin has been implicated in the slowing of the metabolism, as a typical western diet is full of the refined carbohydrates/sugars that generate this. What happens is too much of this peripheral serotonin leads to an inhibition of the mechanisms that activate brown fat which signals to the body to speed up its metabolism. Brown fat evolved to help keep us from shivering all the time but it is very different from ‘white’ fat. Babies have much larger levels of brown fat and it naturally declines with age. But studies have shown that people who are obese have next to no brown fat and instead it is all white visceral fat.
Imbalance of the hormones is common and can hinder our weight loss goals. It is worth getting checked by a GP if you suspect an imbalance and along with medical advice a good nutrition programme from a certified nutritionist can help get you back on track.
By Karen Ross – Ross Holistic Nutrition. www.ross-holistic-nutrition.co.uk
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 Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Nov: 40(11)1863-1872