6 hormones that influence weight loss in women

  • Wellness
  • Monday, 25 Feb 2019

Between the ages of 40 and 55, women start to enter the peri-menopause stage where oestrogen levels decrease, resulting in weight gain.

Combined with a healthy diet, taking steps to ensure that your body has sufficient amounts of these hormones can help take stubborn weight off and keep it off.

In general, public discussions about weight loss tend to focus mainly on exercise and diet. When someone thinks, “I need to lose weight!”, they immediately think up an action plan that involves fitness activities like going running or signing up for the gym.

Some will take an additional step by hiring a personal trainer. This is a great choice as a good personal trainer can really motivate you to stay on track. They will usually stress on the importance of healthy eating and help track your food habits, as that is another key part of a weight loss programme.

But what these fitness regiments omit, is that your hormones can play a very key role in your weight loss success. Our body produces 50 different types of hormones, some of which regulate nutritional intake, metabolism and other functions that relate to weight gain and loss.

Hence, no matter if you are executing your fitness regiment perfectly, if you are experiencing hormonal imbalance, it will inevitably hamper your progress. Let’s take a closer look at the five main types of hormones that most affect weight issues and what you can do to correct any imbalances.


We all require insulin to process the sugars from our food – whether they are added sugar or naturally occurring sugar – and convert them into energy. When we consume carbohydrates, our blood sugar level rises accordingly, due to the sugars in carbohydrates like bread, pasta, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables.

High carb foods like bread and pasta cause a bigger spike, whilst lower carb foods like most vegetables and some fruits cause smaller rises in blood sugar levels. Someone without hormonal complications will not experience any insulin issues.

However, insulin deficiency causes a chronic problem that we know as diabetes, where the sugar in your bloodstream is not being converted into energy and sent to other parts of the body.

Conversely, diabetes patients can also become insulin-resistant, which means that although you may be receiving insulin, not only do you have sugar buildup, but an insulin buildup as well. Both situations create other problems, and one of these is weight gain.

Action plan: What you need to do is to take measures to increase insulin sensitivity. In recent years, research and experimentation has found that one of the most effective ways to do that is by practising a diet that is low in carbs, whether you are diabetic or not.

Consult with a nutritionist if you are unsure of how to create an effective diet plan. Taking supplements containing chromium, R lipoic acid and magnesium may also be useful in glucose control and enhancing insulin sensitivity.

Peri-menopause, menopause, hormone changes in women, sleepy, tired, ghrelin, Star2.com
The hormone ghrelin influences how energetic you feel at any moment, so a disruption in its levels might mean you constantly feel too tired to exercise or do any other physical activity. Photo: 123rf.com


One of the roles of leptin in our body is to act like a hunger suppressant, signalling to our body when we are full and to stop eating. Weight loss not only depends on an individual to make good choices with food, but you also need to practice portion control.

When leptin is deficient or impaired in your body, hunger signals are not being transmitted correctly. In fact, considering that many obesity patients have been found to be lacking in, or resistant to, the leptin hormone, indicates how important this hormone is in weight control.

It’s not really clear what causes leptin impairment. Genetics plays a role, as well as inflammation in the body due to lifestyle factors like stress, poor diet, not enough physical activity, inadequate sleep and more.

Action plan: Eliminate threats from your lifestyle by being mindful of things that affect your overall health. Get enough sleep and take up hobbies that will get you moving.

Above all, change your diet to one that cuts out processed foods and sugars that promote inflammation. A protein-rich diet keeps you full for longer and may improve your body’s response to leptin.

Increase your omega-3 fatty acid consumption either through supplements or by eating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines. Omega-3 can help increase leptin levels by supporting a healthy inflammatory response, which is the main reason leptin resistance develops.


The ghrelin hormone is the opposite of leptin, transmitting the message that your stomach is empty and that you need to eat a meal. Apart from signalling hunger pangs, ghrelin regulates energy resources, hence influencing how energetic you might be at any given moment.

This is connected to obesity problems because a lack of energy is demotivating and won’t inspire you to regularly attend workout sessions at the gym, leaving you largely sedentary, which doesn’t promote weight loss.

Ghrelin seems to be associated with our sleep cycle, producing the most quantities when we are asleep. Feeling hungry the moment you wake up is a good thing, as it’s an indicator that your ghrelin signals are working as they should.

Action plan: Just like with leptin, improving lifestyle habits like eating better food, increased movement and quality rest can help improve ghrelin function. In this case, sticking to a sleep schedule that optimises your circadian rhythm would be very beneficial to ghrelin production.

Avoid high-fructose corn syrup and sugar-sweetened drinks, which can impair ghrelin response after meals. Eating protein at every meal, especially breakfast, can reduce ghrelin levels and promote satiety.

Peri-menopause, menopause, hormone changes in women, cortisol, nature, Star2.com
Taking some time away from your hectic schedule to rest and play with your pet is a good way to decrease your cortisol levels, which can cause overeating if too high. Photo: Bloomberg


This hormone is produced in the adrenal glands to help with protein breakdown for increased energy. Many situations cause the release of cortisol, such as physical injuries, daily stress (over work, relationships, finances, etc), and even activities like lifting weights and cardio workouts.

The elevated levels of this stress hormone during tension-filled times can turn your overeating into a habit. Because increased levels of cortisol also help cause higher insulin levels, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods.

In all of these situations, your blood pressure and blood sugar levels also rise as part of the fight-or-flight response system, which is critical in emergency situations.

But elevated cortisol levels that persist long term, disrupts the immune system and the production of other hormones, cause sleepless nights and stores fat in your belly area.

Action plan: It’s a given that a healthy diet should be part of everyone’s daily lives, but to promote healthy cortisol production, you need to counter the things that stress you out with activities that will help your mind to relax and think more positively.

Go for a massage, schedule short getaways that include your favourite activities, or immerse yourself in something that you will enjoy learning about. This gives both mind and body time to rest, and help keep that cortisol production from spiralling out of control.

Having fun and laughing, keeping a pet, taking up a hobby or taking supplements like omega-3 fish oils and ashwagandha may lower cortisol levels. Avoid caffeine at night and pay attention to the amount and quality of your sleep, including trying to limit the chance of disruptions.

Testosterone and Oestrogen

Although testosterone is predominantly a male hormone, it is important for women as well. Testosterone regulates sexual function and metabolism, promotes bone density and follicle growth, and synthesises protein to build muscle.

When testosterone levels in women take a nosedive, so do metabolism, energy levels and muscle mass. As a result, you burn fewer calories and belly fat gets stored. Stress, and even age, are some of the factors that contribute to the drop in testosterone.

Similarly, oestrogen, the female sex hormone that develops a woman’s reproductive system, can also contribute to weight changes. When women enter the peri-menopause stage, oestrogen levels wane and weight gain is often cited as a side effect of that transition.

Action plan: The loss of testosterone and oestrogen is unavoidable as we age, hence many choose to go for hormone replacement therapy. Now would also be the right time to start strength-training workouts to maintain muscle mass and avoid rapid weight gain.

Most of us would be unsure of how to start on either, so consult your doctor for information on bioidentical hormone therapy to overcome the biological factors of weight gain and seek fitness advice from your gym’s personal trainers, to get you on the right track.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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