Taking steps to keep certain hormones, like cortisol and estrogen, at optimal levels can positively impact your weight.
Hormones are important substances that serve as chemical messengers in your body.
They facilitate nearly every bodily process, including metabolism, hunger, and fullness. Because of their association with appetite, some hormones also play a significant role in body weight.
Here are nine hormones that may affect your weight and tips for keeping them healthy.
Insulin, the main storage hormone in your body, is produced by your pancreas. In healthy individuals, insulin promotes the storage of glucose — a simple sugar you get from food — in the muscle, liver, and fat cells for later use.
Your body secretes insulin in small amounts throughout the day and larger amounts after meals. This hormone then transfers glucose from food into your cells for either energy or storage, depending on your body’s current needs.
Insulin resistance is a common condition that causes cells to stop responding to insulin. This condition results in high blood sugar because insulin cannot move glucose into your cells.
Your pancreas then produces even more insulin to boost glucose absorption.
Insulin resistance has been linked to obesity, which can play a role in other conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Insulin sensitivity can be thought of as the opposite of insulin resistance. It means your cells are sensitive to insulin. Thus, it’s a good idea to focus on lifestyle habits that help improve insulin sensitivity, such as the following.
Tips to improve insulin sensitivity
To improve insulin sensitivity, try some of the following tips:
- Exercise regularly. Research supports exercise at high and moderate intensities to improve insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin resistance.
- Improve your sleep habits. Not getting enough sleep, or not getting quality sleep, is linked to obesity and insulin resistance.
- Get more omega-3 fatty acids. Research indicates that omega-3 supplements may improve insulin sensitivity in people with metabolic conditions such as diabetes. If you don’t like supplements, try eating more fish, nuts, seeds, and plant oils.
- Change your diet. The Mediterranean diet — which includes many veggies and healthy fats from nuts and extra-virgin olive oil — may help reduce insulin resistance. Decreasing your intake of saturated and trans fats may also help.
- Maintain a moderate weight. In people with overweight, healthy weight loss and weight management may improve insulin sensitivity.
- Focus on low glycemic carbs. Rather than try to eliminate carbs from your diet, aim to make most of them low glycemic and high fiber. Examples include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Summary: Insulin resistance is linked to chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. To promote insulin sensitivity, focus on regular exercise, a healthy diet, and better sleep habits.
Leptin is a fullness hormone that tells your hypothalamus — the portion of your brain that regulates appetite — that you’re full.
However, people with obesity may experience leptin resistance. This means the message to stop eating doesn’t reach your brain, eventually causing you to overeat.
Your body may produce even more leptin until your levels become elevated.
The direct cause of leptin resistance is unclear, but it may be due to inflammation, gene mutations, and/or excessive leptin production, which can occur with obesity.
Tips to improve leptin levels
Although no known treatment exists for leptin resistance, a few lifestyle changes may help lower leptin levels:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Because leptin resistance is associated with obesity, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. Additionally, research suggests that decreased body fat may help reduce leptin levels.
- Improve your sleep quality. Leptin levels may be related to sleep quality in people with obesity. Although this association may not exist in people without obesity, there are numerous other reasons to get better sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Research links regular, consistent exercise to a decrease in leptin levels.
Summary: In people with obesity, resistance to the hormone leptin, which helps you feel full, may lead to overeating. Research suggests that exercising regularly, sleeping well, and maintaining healthy weight help lower leptin levels.
Ghrelin is essentially the opposite of leptin. The hunger hormone sends a message to your hypothalamus indicating that your stomach is empty and needs food. Its main function is to increase appetite.
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Normally, ghrelin levels are highest before eating and lowest after a meal.
Curiously, research indicates that people with obesity have low ghrelin levels but are more sensitive to its effects. This sensitivity may lead to overeating.
Tips to manage ghrelin levels
One reason weight loss can be difficult is that restricting calories often leads to increased ghrelin levels, leaving you hungry. Additionally, metabolism tends to slow down, and leptin levels decrease.
As such, here are some tips for lowering ghrelin to help reduce appetite:
- Maintain moderate body weight. Obesity may increase your sensitivity to ghrelin, ultimately increasing your appetite.
- Try to get good quality sleep. Poor sleep may lead to increased ghrelin, overeating, and weight gain.
- Eat regularly. Because ghrelin levels are highest before a meal, listen to your body and eat when hungry.
Summary: People with obesity may become more sensitive to the effects of the hunger hormone ghrelin. Research suggests that maintaining moderate body weight and prioritizing sleep help manage this hormone.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and is produced by your adrenal glands.
During times of stress, this hormone increases heart rate and energy levels. The release of cortisol — alongside the hormone adrenaline — is commonly called the “fight or flight” response.
While your body needs to release cortisol in dangerous situations, chronic high levels may lead to many health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, low energy levels, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances, and weight gain.
Certain lifestyle factors — including poor sleep habits, chronic stress, and a high intake of high-glycemic foods — may contribute to high cortisol levels.
Plus, not only does obesity raise cortisol levels, but high levels may also cause weight gain, creating a negative feedback loop.
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Tips for lowering cortisol levels
Here are some lifestyle changes that may help manage cortisol levels:
- Optimize sleep. Chronic sleep issues, including insomnia, sleep apnea, and irregular sleep habits (like those of shift workers), may contribute to high cortisol levels. Focus on developing a regular bedtime and sleep schedule.
- Exercise regularly. Cortisol levels temporarily increase after high-intensity exercise, but regular exercise generally helps decrease levels by improving overall health and lowering stress levels.
- Practice mindfulness. Research suggests that regularly practicing mindfulness lowers cortisol levels, though more research is needed. Try adding meditation to your daily routine.
- Maintain moderate body weight. Because obesity may increase cortisol levels and high cortisol levels can cause weight gain, maintaining a moderate weight may help keep levels in check.
- Eat a balanced diet. Research has shown that diets high in added sugars, refined grains, and saturated fat may increase cortisol levels. Additionally, following the Mediterranean diet may help lower cortisol levels.
Summary: While cortisol is an important hormone, chronically high levels may lead to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, optimizing sleep, and practicing mindfulness may help lower your levels.
Estrogen is a sex hormone responsible for regulating the female reproductive system and the immune, skeletal, and vascular systems.
Levels of this hormone change during life stages such as pregnancy, nursing, and menopause, as well as throughout the menstrual cycle.
High estrogen levels, often seen in people with obesity, are associated with an increased risk of certain cancers and other chronic diseases.
Conversely, low levels — typically seen with aging, perimenopause, and menopause — may affect body weight and fat, increasing your risk of chronic ailments.
Individuals with low estrogen levels often experience central obesity, an accumulation of weight around the body’s trunk. This can lead to other health problems like high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
You can lower your risk of many health conditions through lifestyle changes — especially by maintaining a healthy weight.
Tips to maintain healthy estrogen levels
To keep estrogen levels at a healthy equilibrium, try some of these techniques:
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- Try to manage your weight. Weight loss or maintenance may reduce the risk of heart disease due to low estrogen levels in women ages 55–75. Research also supports healthy weight maintenance for reducing chronic diseases in general.
- Exercise regularly. Low estrogen levels may leave you feeling less capable of working out. Nonetheless, during periods of low estrogen output, such as menopause, regular exercise is still important to aid weight management.
- Follow a balanced diet. Diets high in red meat, processed foods, sweets, and refined grains have been shown to increase estrogen levels, which may raise your risk of chronic disease. As such, you may wish to limit your intake of these foods.
Summary: Both high and low levels of the sex hormone estrogen may lead to weight gain and ultimately increase your risk of disease, so it’s important to maintain healthy lifestyle habits to keep these risks low.
6. Neuropeptide Y
Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is a hormone produced by cells in your brain and nervous system that stimulates appetite and decreases energy expenditure in response to fasting or stress.
Because it may stimulate food intake, NPY is associated with obesity and weight gain.
It’s activated in fat tissue and may increase fat storage and lead to abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome, increasing the risk of chronic diseases.
Research has shown that NPY’s mechanisms that lead to obesity may also cause an inflammatory response, further worsening health conditions.
Tips for maintaining low NPY levels
Here are some tips for maintaining healthy levels of NPY:
- Exercise. Some studies suggest that regular exercise may help decrease NPY levels, though research is mixed.
- Eat a nutritious diet. Although more research is needed, high-fat, high-sugar diets may increase NPY levels — so you may want to consider lowering your intake of foods high in sugar and fat.
Summary: NPY is an appetite-stimulating hormone that may lead to obesity. To maintain healthy levels, it may be helpful to exercise regularly and eat well.
7. Glucagon-like peptide-1
Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) is a hormone produced in your gut when nutrients enter your intestines. It plays a major role in stabilizing blood sugar levels and making you feel full.
Research suggests that people with obesity may have problems with GLP-1 signaling.
As such, GLP-1 is added to medications — particularly for people with diabetes — to reduce body weight and waist circumference.
Tips for keeping GLP-1 levels in check
Here are some tips to help maintain healthy levels of GLP-1:
- Eat plenty of protein. High-protein foods such as whey protein and yogurt have been shown to increase GLP-1 levels.
- Consider taking probiotics. Preliminary research suggests that probiotics may increase GLP-1 levels, though more human research is needed. Additionally, chatting with a healthcare professional before starting new supplements is best.
Summary: GLP-1 is a fullness hormone, but people with obesity may not be as sensitive to its effects. To maintain healthy GLP-1 levels, eat a well-rounded diet with plenty of protein.
Like GLP-1, cholecystokinin (CCK) is a fullness hormone produced by cells in your gut after a meal. It’s important for energy production, protein synthesis, digestion, and other bodily functions. It also increases the release of the fullness hormone leptin.
People with obesity may have a reduced sensitivity to CCK’s effects, leading to chronic overeating. This may further reduce CCK sensitivity, creating a negative feedback loop.
Tips for increasing CCK levels
Here are some tips for maintaining healthy levels of CCK:
- Eat plenty of protein. Some research suggests a high protein diet may help increase CCK levels and fullness.
- Exercise. While research is limited, some evidence supports regular exercise for increasing CCK levels.
Summary: CCK is a fullness hormone that people with obesity may become desensitized to. This can lead to overeating. Consider regular exercise and a diet with plenty of protein to maintain healthy CCK levels.
9. Peptide YY
Peptide YY (PYY) is another gut hormone that decreases appetite.
PYY levels may be lower in people with obesity, and this may lead to greater appetite and overeating. Sufficient levels are believed to play a major role in reducing food intake and decreasing the risk of obesity.
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Tips for raising PYY levels
Here are some ways to keep PYY at a healthy level in your body:
- Follow a well-rounded diet. Eating plenty of protein may promote healthy PYY levels and fullness. Additionally, the paleo diet — which includes ample protein, fruits, and veggies — may raise PYY levels, but more research is needed.
- Exercise. While research on exercise and PYY levels is mixed, staying active is generally beneficial for health.
Summary: People with obesity may have low levels of the fullness hormone PYY. Eating a high-protein diet and staying active may help raise levels.
The nine hormones listed above are all linked to body weight.
Research suggests that certain lifestyle habits can optimize levels of these hormones. Still, speaking with a healthcare professional is important if you believe your hormones may be at unhealthy levels.
Pursuing a balanced diet, prioritizing sleep, and exercising regularly may benefit your overall health and reduce your risk of chronic disease.
Expert tip: Prioritize your sleep by keeping a consistent bedtime routine and sticking to the same bedtime and wake-up time each day.