3 Sneaky Hormonal Imbalances That Could Be Wrecking Your Health: A Doctor Explains

Functional Medicine Doctor & NY Times bestseller By Mark Hyman, M.D.
Functional Medicine Doctor & NY Times bestseller
Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.

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Numerous reasons exist for weight loss resistance beyond what you eat or how much you exercise. Nutritional imbalances, chronic inflammation, metabolism challenges, leaky gut, changes in your microbiome, environmental toxins, and your genes can all affect your efforts to be healthier.

One huge but often-overlooked reason for weight loss resistance involves hormonal imbalances. The "monster hormone" that causes weight gain, inflammation, and chronic disease is excess insulin. My new book, Eat Fat Get Thin, discusses how to naturally regulate insulin so you can shift your body from fat storage mode to fat-burning mode, so you can look great and feel even better.

But insulin isn’t the only player; other hormones also affect your weight and health. Three big ones are thyroid, cortisol, and sex hormones. I discuss these hormones in-depth in The Blood Sugar Solution, but let’s briefly look at each of them here.

1. Thyroid

Thyroid function plays a vital role to maintain a healthy weight, and hypothyroid becomes a major player in weight loss resistance. Research shows hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function, affects one in five women and one in ten men. In over half of these cases, this condition isn’t diagnosed.

Many things, including diet, nutrient deficiencies, stress, and environmental toxins, contribute to these imbalances. A common cause of hypothyroidism is gluten intolerance, which accounts for up to 30 percent of the thyroid-attacking autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s.

Other major culprits that interfere with thyroid function include pesticides and heavy metals. Nutrient deficiencies can also slow things down. Your thyroid needs specific nutrients to run optimally including selenium, zinc, iodine, and omega 3 fats. In many cases, I recommend working with a functional practitioner to address these and other thyroid issues.

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2. Cortisol

Chronic stress is another source of weight loss resistance. Stressful thoughts activate metabolic pathways that causes weight gain and insulin resistance.

How? Cortisol is an adrenal hormone that helps you to run faster, see further, hear better, and pump fuel into your bloodstream for quick energy, in part of the fight or flight response that helped us in caveman times. It also shuts down digestion and slows your metabolism.

All of this is perfectly normal in the short term (and was helpful back then), yet if left unchecked, prolonged stress and high levels of cortisol cause high blood sugar, increased belly fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and muscle loss.

Finding ways to manage stress—including meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and changing your thinking—has become fundamental to overcoming weight loss resistance.

3. Sex hormones

Sex hormone imbalances like estrogen and testosterone can also cause weight problems. Having too much estrogen causes weight gain whether you’re a man or woman. For both genders, too much sugar, refined carbs, and alcohol can spike estrogen.

Keeping your gut healthy also cultivates healthy sex-hormone metabolism. Too little fiber or too many antibiotics damage the gut, triggering estrogen spikes because your body can’t properly detoxify or excrete waste.

Environmental toxins like pesticides are called xenoestrogens because even at lose doses they act like estrogen in your body.

Symptoms of excess estrogen in women include:

  • breast tenderness
  • fluid retention
  • bad premenstrual syndrome
  • fibroids
  • heavy menstrual bleeding

In men, excess estrogen can cause:

  • loss of body hair (including chest, legs, and arms)
  • a beer belly
  • “man boobs”

Low testosterone causes men to experience:

  • muscle loss and increased fat
  • sexual dysfunction
  • low sex drive, fatigue
  • mental fogginess
  • bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis

Low testosterone in men can also accelerate aging. Lack of exercise, alcohol, stress, environmental toxins, diseases like diabesity, or even pituitary problems can also lower testosterone.

If you suspect sex hormone imbalances, you’ll want to get tested and work with a functional practitioner. Among strategies to balance these hormones include regular exercise and eating the healthy fat-rich diet I discuss in my books. While many factors can contribute to these and other hormonal imbalances, dietary and lifestyle factors play key roles. In other words, don't be discouraged: there is a lot you can do to balance your hormones with what you eat, how you move, and how you live.

Mark Hyman, M.D.
Mark Hyman, M.D.
Dr. Mark Hyman is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power...
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