How Hormones influence fat storage

Are you one of those people who exercise and are pretty cautious about what you eat, yet still battle to drop a jean size?

If so, you are not alone and the conventional “wisdom” is exactly what may be keeping you trapped on a plateau.

If the diets, exercise regimes that once enabled you to shed the fat no longer work, then you need to change your methodology, quickly. We all know that the body changes as we progress through various life stages. Learning how and why this happens is the first and most important step to restoring your health and weight. Understanding the role hormones play is possibly most important. 

The most common advice your doctor will give you is to eat less and exercise more. This is the first big mistake anyone can make when wanting to lose a substantial amount of fat and keep it off in the long term. Initially this approach will work. Simply because you are expending your reserves. However, as any dieter knows, it reaches a point where this becomes not only impossible to sustain, but void of any positive results. 

Within a short period of time the innate wisdom of the brain and metabolism knows that you are taking in less energy than you are expending. What happens next is that the metabolic rate slows down to match your energy expenditure, which means that at best you will burn muscle mass for a while and then simply not have the energy to function optimally. All fat burning comes to a standstill and almost everything you eat goes into storage. 

There are a number of ways to manipulate the survival system. The first being to increase not only the volume and quality of your food to match your energy output. But also the chemistry of your foods. 

What foods are largely comprised of will undoubtedly determine what you body uses them for. 

Food is information that speaks to your cells and in the case of fat metabolism, to your endocrine system. 

For the lay-person, the system which governs hormones has everything to do with reproduction and hardly any relevance to the amount and type of fat is stored. This couldn’t be further from he truth. 

Hormones are literally ht messengers that tell your body to store fat or burn fat. The foods you choose to eat with influence the amount and quality of the hormones present in your body. Therefore, the trick to sustainable fat loss has far less to do with calories and a lot to do with chemistry. 

But it doesn’t just begin and end with food. The more we learn about the human body, the more we realise that all of the intricate systems that make us human are interrelated. Candace Pert, PhD and highly respected neurobiologist, has proven that emotion is not generated in the brain; it is generated in the cells.  Emotions are created chemically at cellular level and illness can be caused by this stored and trapped information. It stands to reason then, that stress, trauma and exhaustion drive many of our physical functions, including the endocrine system and how hormones are expressed. 


Insulin is possibly top of the pile when we need to look at hormones that cause fat gain. Insulin is manufactured by the pancreas in response to the intake of foods, specifically carbohydrates and even protein to an extent. Consuming too many carbohydrate-dense or refined foods will increase insulin production. Over time, elevated insulin levels will lead to insulin resistance, triggering fat storage. Insulin resistance is reversible though diet. Meal timing and the types of foods one eats is the most important factor here.

Have you ever wondered why eating vegetables and protein stimulates fat burning? It has nothing to do with calories, and a lot to do with chemical secretions in the gut and endocrine system. Glucagon-like peptide (GLP) and Glucose dependent insulinotropic peptide (GIP) are secreted in the small intestine and literally sense what type of food passes through the gut. Sugar and fat releases more GIP. While protein and plant fibre (vegetables) release more GLP. Eating more protein and vegetables signals more GLP resulting in fat burning. 

Interestingly, parasites and certain yeasts in the gut, such as candida will actually send messages via the endocrine system to the point that you crave sugary foods. These parasites need sugars to survive. And your cravings ensure their survival.


The metabolism management system, otherwise known as the thyroid is vulnerable to many external factors, especially stress so it is no wonder so many people have issues in this area. 

The Thyroid plays a key role in hormone production and fat metabolism.  Thyroid hormone is secreted by the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is regulated by the pituitary gland which in turn is influenced by the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. The hypothalamus receives feedback from thyroid hormones to either stimulate or suppress TSH release from the pituitary.  Once TSH is released the thyroid increases thyroxine (T4). Thyroxine converts to the active form of thyroid hormone, Triiodothyronine (T3). T3 manages the metabolism and stimulates cellular function.  Major stress and trauma, exhaustion and starvation dieting can prevent the conversion of T4 to T3 resulting in hypothyroidism. Or even convert to reverse T3 (rT3) which is an inactive form. Too much cortisol converts T4 to rT3. Too little cortisol and T3 wont be able to bind to thyroid receptor sites. External factors influencing whether or not your thyroid is healthy, include sleep duration and quality, chronic dieting, stress, trauma, food choices and the duration and type of exercise you do.  Thyroid balance is highly complex and is tied in to our mental/emotional state to the extent that managing your stress and getting quality sleep is critically important in achieving healthy thyroid balance and therefore a healthy metabolism.


This brings us to the cortisol. A hormone that is linked to stress and abdominal fat storage because insulin is often high when there is  high cortisol in the system. However, what we do not always realise is that you do not want your cortisol levels to be too low either.  As with all hormones, balance is the key.  Like thyroid, cortisol is tied in to the adrenals.  Again, chronic stress leads to overburdened adrenal glands affects cortisol negatively. Triggering body fat accumulation, specifically around the abdomen.  Elevated cortisol will increase Neuropeptide -Y.  NP-Y turns off satiety and turns on fat storage, even stimulating the production of additional fat cells. In simple terms, long term chronic stress creates NP-Y production via the nervous system. Time out, exercise and stress management are the best solution to this issue. 

Adrenaline is the a master switch, in that it influences almost all the other hormones. If your adrenal glands do not get a chance to recover, your fat burning hormones - HGH, cortisol, and testosterone cannot effectively burn fat and build lean mass.  Adrenalin is designed to release in short relays. High intensity, short duration exercise has proven to be the best way to balance elevated cortisol and adrenalin.  It seems that it is the short bursts of intense effort in high intensity training that mimic healthy adrenal cycles. When we train to full capacity for short periods of time, specifically weight bearing exercises, HGH (human growth hormone) and testosterone is secreted. These two hormones stimulate fat burning. Quality sleep, relaxation and specific herbal remedies are also highly beneficial in lowering cortisol levels.


Both men and women need testosterone to feel good, look good and stay motivated.  Adequate testosterone leads to a healthy sex-drive, bone density, and fat burning.  Again, as with all hormones, balance is key. Too much testosterone can be as counterproductive as too little. Testosterone is closed associated with Insulin. If your insulin is too high, it suppresses testosterone. When testosterone is suppressed and insulin is high, fat is stored. If your blood test results come back with a low testosterone score it is important to check your insulin levels as well. 


Also present in both men and women, Oestrogen is another tricky hormone. The trouble is that we are exposed to synthetic oestrogen's in the atmosphere, in foods and food packaging, cosmetics and even tap water. These synthetic oestrogen's are known as xenoestrogens which disrupt not only our natural ability to make oestrogen but of greater concern, our ability to clear or cycle oestrogen.  When the oestrogen cycle is disrupted once becomes for at risk for oestrogen related cancers, menstrual problems and weight gain.  Eating sulphate rich, plant based foods is the first step in oestrogen balance. Oestrogen dominance is associated with stubborn fat storage and this sometimes happens when we do not have enough progesterone. 

Progesterone works synergistically with oestrogen and cortisol. When optimised it assists in fat burning and stable moods. Progesterone is dependent again on quality sleep and and stress reduction! Adequate progesterone is vital to general quality of life, brain health and stable moods.


Our fat cells are not arbitrary storage sites. Fat is itself an endocrine organ that communicates with the brain.  Leptin is a hormone secreted by our fat cells and tells the brain that you have excess fat to use for energy.  However overeating or extreme dieting confuses these signals. The brain receives mixed messages and puts the breaks on fat metabolism.  Eating small frequent meals is a highly effective way to clear these mixed messages.  Ghrelin on the other hand signals satiety. This hormone tells us when to stop eating. Again this signalling gets confused due to unnatural eating habits. I would hazard a guess that many of us were taught from a very young age, not to be sensitised to our natural satiety levels. Many children are forced to finish the food on their plates. Or eat everything up before they are allowed dessert. What happens is that we are forcing ourselves to ignore the full signal - who wants to skip desert after all? After years of training the brain to switch off satiety signalling, the chemicals that communicate with our hormones send the wrong messages. When one hormone defaults, all systems ultimately pays the price. 

In summary, lack of sleep, stress, trauma, lack of exercise and fatigue is the quickest route to ageing badly. Don’t wait until you reach complete system failure. Hormones are complex and intricately related to all of our systems. Putting the pieces back together is complicated and  prevention is much easer than cure.​   Tel:  010 597 0850 / 083 565 7043

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