Key hormones that affect weight

Because excess body weight can lead to many health problems including inflammation, diabetes, and heart disease it is (obviously) important to keep your weight under control.

For many - in fact, most - people this is easier said than done. Although everyone knows that frequent exercise and proper nutrition leads to weight loss, many people find that the generally accepted rule of eating less and exercising more simply does not work for them.

An imbalance of hormones could be to blame for why your efforts to lose weight may not be working.

Research shows that your body fat acts as an endocrine organ that secretes hormones and receives hormonal signals from other areas of the body such as the brain, adrenals, pancreas, and gut.  Here are some key hormones involved in weight maintenance:


Leptin, known as the "satiety hormone", is a hormone secreted by your fat cells that signals the brain to tell you to stop eating when full. When your fat cells become sick due to increased visceral fat, also known as the fat surrounding your organs, excessive leptin is released and leptin resistance occurs. In the presence of leptin resistance, your brain does not get the message to stop eating and a vicious cycle of over eating, weight gain, and leptin imbalance occurs.

You can optimize leptin levels by getting adequate sleep (in particular, get checked for sleep apnea and if you have this, partake in the recommended treatment), taking a 3-4 hour break between meals (and make sure you are not going longer than 5 hours between meals), and limiting sugar and processed food consumption to minimize your chance and/or treat insulin resistance. High levels of fructose found in agave, high fructose corn syrup, table sugar and honey triggers leptin resistance, however, the amount of fructose consumed in moderate amounts of WHOLE fruit is fine.


Adiponectin is another hormone secreted by fat cells that helps regulate blood sugar and increases fat-burning when levels are high.

This hormone helps to decrease inflammation and increase insulin resistance.

Levels of adiponectin improve with weight loss via aerobic exercise, reduced carbohydrate consumption, omega 3 supplementation, and improved fitness level.


Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas in response to rising blood sugar. This hormone brings sugar inside the cells of the body so that it can be used for energy. When this hormone is consistently high in the body, cells can become insulin resistant. This means that although the pancreas begins to produce more and more insulin in response to sugar in the blood stream, it is unable to do its job appropriately. Excess insulin levels increase fat storage, block leptin signals in the brain, and make it more difficult to lose weight.

Keep insulin levels in check by limiting sugar and fructose consumption in processed foods and by taking supplements such as vitamin D and omega 3 (make sure a medical provider is following your vitamin D levels, though - you don't want these to get too high). Reducing chronic stress and adding muscle building exercises to your weekly routine will also help to prevent insulin resistance.


Cortisol is also known as a stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. Many receptors for this hormone are found in abdominal fat cells which is why chronic stress can lead to increased belly fat.

Keep this hormone optimized by getting adequate sleep, avoiding excessive caffeine, and reducing stress levels.

Thyroid Hormones

Thyroid hormones set your metabolic rate. A low thyroid level leads to increased body fat, low energy, and inability to lose weight.

Chronic stress, over-exercising, and being too restrictive with your diet can lead to low thyroid levels. In addition, imbalances in vitamin D, iron levels, iodine, B vitamins, and selenium all play a role in activating our main thyroid hormone (T3).  A blood test is needed to determine if you have a deficiency in one or many of these.

In summary: having good stress management strategies in place, avoiding sugar and processed foods, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, and taking certain supplements will help you to balance your hormones and make weight loss easier.

How do you know if you have problems with your hormones?

If you feel that hormones might be to blame for your lack of weight loss success, blood tests can be done to detect any hormone or nutrient imbalance you might have that could be getting in the way of reaching your weight loss goals.  With the exception of thyroid hormones, all other hormones mentioned are considered newer and thus are not routinely checked by most primary care providers.  Click here to see a more detailed article on these hormones, and call Texas Metabolic Centers if you are interested in long-term weight loss.  We can check these hormones for you, and advise you as to how we can optimize your health and weight!