We know that metabolism slows down as you age, but we also know that it is very heavily influenced by our hormones, meaning if our hormones are out of whack, then it results in many things in the body going awry.
These include not being able to lose fat, because instead of burning it, the body stores it; feeling fatigued and sluggish and even an inability to brighten up your mood.
Yeah, we rely on our metabolism for A LOT, so when things are off-set it, it’s not pretty for us.
If you’re looking to lose weight or just trying to keep your body in tip top condition, then you need to understand how hormonal imbalances impact your body.
“Almost anyone who struggles with weight also battles a hormone imbalance. It amazes me how easy weight loss becomes once hormones are back in their sweet spot. Hormones control how efficiently a calorie makes you fat.
Most diets don’t work for women, because they fail to address the hormonal root causes that are the most common reasons for weight loss resistance, like excess cortisol, insulin and/or leptin blockage, estrogen dominance, a sluggish thyroid, low testosterone, and problems with the HPA (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal) control system,” Dr Sara Gottfried, New York Times bestselling author of The Hormone Reset Diet and Younger tells GOOP.
When asked what the typical hormonal imbalance that makes it hard to relinquish weight, Gottfried, singled out cortisol.
“Ninety percent of the time, I find that the main hormone that’s out of whack is cortisol (which ends up disrupting other hormones, too),” she says.
“Your body makes cortisol in response to stress, but most of us run around stressed too much of the time, and our cortisol is off as a result. High or dysregulated cortisol levels wreak havoc over time, depleting your happy brain chemicals like serotonin, robbing your sleep, and making you store fat—especially in your belly. High cortisol is likewise linked to depression, food addiction, and sugar cravings.”
Cortisol, also known as the ‘stress hormone’ is interestingly one of the major drivers of metabolism.
“Its main function is to prepare the body in times of stress. One way it does this is by blocking the absorption of glucose in order to provide an easy energy source if you need to fight, run, or think quickly,” says says Rocio Salas-Whalen, M.D., an endocrinologist in New York City.
However, the trouble starts when stress becomes chronic and your cortisol levels remain elevated, which results in driving your blood sugar levels up as well as slowing down your metabolism. This then results in weight gain, feeling fatigued but experiencing trouble sleeping.
So what causes the cortisol imbalances?
According to Gottfried it is usually due to a dysregulated HPA axis, which is the boss of all your hormones.
“When the HPA is up-regulated, you churn out too much cortisol, like I did. Result? Muffin top, feeling like you’re constantly racing from task to task, feeling wired but tired, quickness to anger and irritability, rapid weight gain,” Gottfried notes.
“Over time, the HPA can get burned out and become down-regulated. Then you feel a lack of stamina, have a tendency to hold a negative point of view, catch colds frequently, and you may experience thyroid problems that improve briefly before you crash again,” she continues.
To reset your HPA, and your cortisol, a good place to start is being aware of your stressors and balancing your cortisol. Gottfried outlines a list to help.
Here is my (simplified) protocol for becoming more objective about your stressors and balancing cortisol in women (all suggestions that are proven in randomized trials, the best evidence we have):
- Talk through what’s stressing you with a girlfriend.
- Practice some form of “witness” consciousness like meditation or yoga.
- Add B vitamins and omega-3s if you’re deficient.
- Take phosphatidyl serine until you perceive less stress and your HPA is no longer hyper-vigilant.
- Get a massage once or twice per month.
- Limit alcohol and coffee, or ideally switch to green tea, which contains L-theanine, an amino acid that reduces stress without sedation.
- Eat extra dark chocolate (80 percent cacao or higher).
If your symptoms don’t resolve, add plant medicine. Ashwagandha is my favorite adaptogen that helps to reset cortisol, so it’s not too high nor too low during the day. If it doesn’t work for you, try rhodiola.
The best way to get your hormones back on track is to take real care of yourself and put your health first. This means improving your diet, doing adaptive exercises such as yoga, dance or Pilates, incorporating weight training and walking.
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