When you gain weight for no obvious reason, it may be linked to hormone fluctuations that can occur with age, a medical issue, or more.
Changes in hormone levels can affect major body functions, including the way you gain and lose weight. While hormonal weight gain affects both sexes, the distribution of fat differs between women and men.
Treating hormonal weight gain involves finding and fixing the hormonal imbalance. You may also need treatment for the underlying medical issue causing a shift in your hormone levels.
This article explains the symptoms, causes, and medical ailments linked with hormonal weight gain. It also discusses ways to prevent and treat this problem.
Hormonal Weight Gain Symptoms
Since hormonal weight gain is linked to many types of imbalances, it can cause different symptoms. The symptoms you have depend on the hormone involved and whether you have too much or too little of it.
In addition to trouble losing weight, common symptoms of hormonal weight gain include:
- A thirst that isn’t satisfied despite drinking water
- Frequent urination
- Frequent sweating and/or tremors
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Irregular heartbeat
- “Brain fog,” or an inability to think clearly
Areas Affected by Hormonal Weight Gain
Hormonal weight gain areas and fat distribution differences between the sexes in these ways:
- Men gain weight in the abdominal area.
- Premenopausal women gain weight around the hips and thighs.
- Postmenopausal women gain weight in the bell area, like men.
What Hormones Cause Weight Gain?
Several key hormones play a major role in controlling your appetite, feelings of fullness, metabolism, and body fat distribution. A change in their normal level of function can lead to excess weight gain.
Estrogen is the hormone that regulates a women’s reproductive cycle. However, it also affects other body systems, including weight gain in both men and women.
Having too little or too much estrogen is not a direct cause-and-effect link to weight gain. Instead, an estrogen imbalance can hurt its ability to manage the following systems normally, which can lead to weight gain:
- Energy expenditure
- Food intake
- Body fat distribution
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. Its job is to help the cells in your body absorb glucose from your blood.
Cells use glucose for energy to support their organs and other systems. Insulin also works with your liver and muscles to store glucose as fat.
When your glucose levels fill your cells, liver, and muscles, the excess glucose is stored as body fat. This tells your pancreas to stop making insulin.
People with type 2 diabetes tend to develop insulin resistance. They can’t make good use of the insulin they produce, so blood glucose levels increase. As a result, the body sends excess glucose to fat cells, and weight gain results.
Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells. It acts primarily on the brain, affecting the hypothalamus and brainstem.
Leptin helps control appetite and satiety, or a feeling of fullness. Its job is to alert the brain when energy stores in the liver and body fat decline.
While the level of leptin increases with the amount of body fat, there is evidence that some obese people may be resistant to leptin. Having leptin resistance or too little leptin can interfere with these benefits it provides:
- Regulates food intake and body weight
- Promotes an appetite suppressant
- Controls energy expenditure
Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It controls the processes linked to your “fight or flight” response. It also helps regulate blood sugar, metabolism, sleep cycles, and inflammation.
When cortisol levels stay high due to a medical problem or chronic stress, your body remains set to fight or flight. Higher than normal cortisol levels are linked with abdominal obesity.5
When it maintains high cortisol levels for a perceived threat, your body performs the following processes that can increase weight gain:
- Increase in appetite to maintain calories
- Cravings for carbohydrates or sugar for fast energy
- The desire for binge eating
- Difficulty maintaining a regular exercise regimen
Often called the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. It controls hunger by working with the hypothalamus to control your appetite. It also tells the pituitary gland to release growth hormone, which destroys fat tissue and supports muscle growth.
Ghrelin levels typically rise before eating and during periods of fasting, when it promotes hunger. Levels decrease after a meal.
Obese people usually have lower ghrelin levels than thin people, but may be more sensitive to it. This suggests that the hormone may help with regulating weight, rather than weight gain. Having a sensitivity to ghrelin could also lead to overeating.
For any more concerns, be sure to get in touch with our team of experts.