Scale Stuck

Scale Stuck No Matter What You Do?How Hormone Tests Can Help You Win the Weight Loss Battle

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You’re on a diet. Committed to losing that 30 pounds that’s been holding you back from a slim and beautiful body.

And for once, you’re finding a whole new reservoir of motivation and self-discipline!

You’ve been exercising five days a week and eating a very low-calorie diet of 1,800 calories a day, chiefly lean proteins and vegetables. You’ve cut out snacks, sugar, soda, and refined carbohydrates.

In short, you’re doing every single thing you possibly can to lose that 2.5 pounds a week you’re supposed to lose with a calorie deficit like that.

You just know your weekly weigh-in today is going to be triumphant.  Last Friday, the scale said 171. So here we go! You step on the scale and—wait a minute…171.  WTF?

This can’t be right. Can it? With all that hard work and sacrifice?

Don’t get discouraged, you tell yourself. You make a mature decision to chalk this up to an “adjustment stage” in the weight loss process, and you manage another week of strict dieting and exercise.

You step on the scale the next Friday and… 171.5.  What the hell is going on, for real?

When weight loss is this hard there is only one explanation for what is holding you back—hormones.

There are four hormones that, if out of balance, make weight loss impossible, period.

If you’re anywhere over the age of 40, the chances are that hormones like the ones below are already wreaking havoc with your life. This is because by then, you’ve definitely acquired enough stress, hidden sugars, refined carbs, and toxic stress from the environment to throw your fat storing hormones into overdrive.

The chief hormones that cause weight gain and control our fat storage processes are

  • Estrogen
  • Cortisol
  • Thyroid
  • Insulin

These are the hormones are preventing most of us from achieving the slim body we want.

Your hormones impact many things: your mood, your energy levels, and especially the way your body utilizes food for energy via fat storage and metabolism. As hormone specialist and gynecologist Sara Gottfried explains, “approximately 99% of weight gain is hormonal.”(i)

When hormones are out of balance, the chief sign is un-budgeable weight gain. That’s because hormonal imbalance sends a signal to the body that something is not right—a “danger Will Robinson” situation tells the body to store fuel as fat for future use, in case you’re in danger of starvation or siege. In fact, especially if you’re under stress and dieting–because to your body, this kind of stress IS siege and famine.

The truth is none of this will work if your hormones are out of balance because hormones won’t let your body release any of that fat on your body to be burned. Period. They put the nix on thermogenesis completely.

See the hormones and nervous system work through complex orchestral conductors called the HPA and HPT axes (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal and Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Thyroid axes). These axes control the thyroid hormone, cortisol, estrogen—all the stress and adrenal hormones.  And these hormones are impacted by our nervous system through various forms of stress, be it toxic stress, physical stress, or psychological stress.

Estrogen impacts insulin, thyroid hormones impact estrogen, and they all work together like an orchestra playing an intricate symphony—and if one instrument, or hormone is out of rhythm, all the other players get thrown off rhythm too.

But you can lose weight and get healthy again by bringing hormones back into balance.

Today, home hormone testing is just one way—a visit to a good endocrinologist another—that people are taking control of their lives and bodies again. Home hormone panels give you a quick and easy way to find out about the kind of hormonal imbalances that are holding you back from weight loss.

Today, I’ll tell you how out of balance cortisol, thyroid hormone, estrogen, and insulin can sabotage your weight loss program, how hormone testing can help you recognize out of balance levels, and later, tell you how to lower these specific hormones in your body through proven strategies.

Insulin

Our ability to burn fat—or not—is determined by four specific hormones—insulin, cortisol, thyroid, and estrogen.

The reason we call insulin a primary fat storage hormone is because when blood sugars are high, insulin does two things that makes fat burning impossible:

Insulin

  • tells fat to be stored in the cells
  • prevents fat in the fat cells from being utilized as energy

How Insulin Works

When you eat, your blood sugar rises in relation to how much carbohydrate you eat and what kind of insulin spike this causes. If you eat a tablespoon of cream cheese—hardly any insulin spike. A cup of ice cream and insulin soars.

So, whenever you eat a meal, insulin rises based on what you have eaten.

Say you eat a meal. The pancreas’s job as this food comes in is to release insulin in the blood to tell the cells to open up and receive your food energy into those cells so you can then use it for fuel.

Think of insulin as a handheld garage door opener. When the pancreas clicks the remote-control button—insulin tells the garage door to open on your cells letting the car (glucose) go in.

This is because as long as that sugar stays in the blood it acts as a toxin in the blood, throwing everything in the body into panic. The body doesn’t want anything dangerous for you in the blood or in the body period. So, it fights this high sugar much like a pathogen, but instead of releasing immune cells to fight it, it begins hyper shuttling glucose into the fat cells to be stored as fat—anything to get it out of the blood.

Over time, this is dangerous to your health because high blood sugars, of course, lead to diabetes and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).

When you eat a moderate carb meal, your body is happy. The pancreas doesn’t have to keep sending out more and more insulin to achieve the “garage door opener” effect on your cells. The cells take up glucose for you to utilize as energy instead of being stored as fat, and you’re happy because you stay lean.

But what happens if you’re consistently consuming high carb meals and spiking blood sugar?

The cells stop opening the garage door. They literally stop listening to the pancreas’ release of insulin. They refuse to let glucose into the cell because they have quite enough glucose already. They basically tell the pancreas, “No, thank you, I’m full.”

This is because the muscle cells have only a very limited space to store glucose. It’s not a four-car garage, just a one-car garage.  So, the body takes its next only available solution—it shuttles sugar to the fat cells instead, where they’re stored as FAT, which, of course, makes you fat-ter.

illustration of pancreas and insulin at work
illustration of pancreas and insulin at work

The pancreas doesn’t understand why the cells haven’t let the glucose in. The pancreas basically says to itself, “well, maybe they didn’t get the insulin message…Perhaps I need to send out more insulin to open that door on the cell properly and let that energy in.”

As this process continues, your body becomes insulin resistant--deaf to the pancreas’ secretion of insulin to lower blood sugars. And you become insulin resistant, then pre-diabetic, then full-on diabetes occurs.

Over time, even your fasting blood sugar is high. A level of fasting blood sugar over 90 mg/dL is an early sign of insulin resistance and over 100 mg/dL = insulin resistance proper.  Eventually, the pancreas gives up. It stops releasing insulin altogether.  Fasting blood sugar levels rise to 120 or higher, and type II diabetes is diagnosed at this point.

Unfortunately, most doctors are not vigilant about testing for insulin resistance or early insulin resistance when this condition is still highly reversible. They wait until you’re complaining of constant weight gain and constant thirst, two big symptoms of diabetes.

When you’re insulin resistant, the reason you gain so much weight is because as long as insulin levels are high, your fat cells are not going to release fat for fuel. Why would they, in fact, when you have all this easy, and preferred simple sugar energy that the cells love just like humans love sugary foods?

See, your body is never going to burn fat for fuel in the presence of insulin and so much glucose in the blood. It wants that easy-to-reach for energy right there at its fingertips. You’re already under stress—why add the stress of dipping into the fat cells for energy on top of that? That’s just too much work.

Finding out if you’re insulin resistant is one of the first steps you should take in any weight loss program. A HOMA-IR test puts prevention of diabetes at your fingertips, saving you the hassle of begging your doctor for what they might deem “unnecessary tests.”

HOMA IR tests are a new test which measures your body’s sensitivity or lack of sensitivity to insulin. This test can tell you how close you are to becoming insulin resistance while you still have time to change it. Once you know your level of sensitivity to insulin, you can strategize ways through diet, exercise, and blood sugar-lowering supplements to take control of high insulin before it ruins your health, helping you to tap into your fat cells again and melt all that stored fat off the body.

What many informed individuals are doing today is ordering their own HOMA – IR kits, and monitoring how their insulin sensitivity score improves over time as they make positive lifestyle changes.

Estrogen

Estrogen is another troublesome hormone for weight loss—even more than cortisol, another fat storage hormone that gets more press than either insulin or estrogen.

When it’s normal, estrogen actually aids in weight loss by keeping insulin and blood sugars in check so we can burn fat and stay lean. When estrogen is too high, as in estrogen dominance, you become a weight gaining, fat-storing machine.

As one endocrinologist notes, “In men and premenopausal women, too much estrogen, a condition called estrogen dominance causes toxic fat gain, water retention, bloating and a host of other health and wellness issues. ... In fact, excess estrogen is as much a risk factor for obesity – in both sexes – as poor eating habits and lack of exercise.”(ii)

In premenopausal women, excess estrogen typically causes a pear-shaped body, with lots of fat stored around the belly, hips, and derriere.

For postmenopausal women and men, excess estrogen results in an apple shaped body, with a lot of fat storage in the belly. In men, excess estrogen can also cause the dreaded “man boobs.”

Estrogen dominance is becoming a problem for many people today, even young men and women. The cause? living in a world flooded with estrogen mimickers and hormone disruptors.  We’re exposed to a constant flood of estrogen and estrogen disruptors in environmental pollutants, pesticides on food, and hormone disrupting fragrances and chemicals in cologne, body wash, cleansers, virtually every product sold on the shelves today to make you smell good and look good.

hidden sources of estrogen found in plastic containers
hidden sources of estrogen found in plastic containers

All fragrance contains estrogen disruptors. The EWG just tested the 17 most popular fragrances in America, including J. Lo Glo, Coco Chanel, and Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio, one of the worst offenders—finding up to 17 estrogen-disrupting chemicals in these colognes that cause hormone disruption, lowered sperm counts, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.(iii)

We’re exposed to estrogen nearly everywhere these days. The air we breathe is saturated with pesticides. Even if you’re not using them, the golf course is, the schools are, the churches, businesses, libraries… Common pesticides used in the U.S. and globally include Atrazine, a DDT knockoff that turns male frogs females. That’s how much estrogen is in it.

Although DDT is banned here, we sell it to the very countries which then sell us our produce. I kid you not. We get estrogen from pesticides from food too. And the food our cattle is eating. And the hormones they use on cattle.

Plastic is loaded with estrogen mimickers, that act just like estrogen in the body, causing fat storage around the breasts, middle, hips, and thighs.  The EPA reminds us that most U.S. drinking water contains 7 forms of estrogen, including estradiol that can cause cancer and obesity. (iv)

Meat is another big problem. Meat is loaded with hormones, steroids, and toxins that can disrupt estrogen and the lack of fiber in a meat rich diet. We remove excess estrogen in waste, so the more fiber, the better for estrogen balance. In short, a mostly plant diet today, clean produce only, is one of the best ways to remove some of the estrogens flooding our body from food and toxins.

Another way you can become estrogen dominant is by using synthetic hormones in some form via birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.

So, given all this is it any wonder we’re ALL becoming estrogen dominant.  In fact, estrogen dominance is becoming such a problem for everyone, old and young that:

  • Today, the average age of the onset of menstruation is dropping to as low as 10 years of age in girls. In fact, the onset of puberty has been lowered by 5 years since 1920.(v)
  • Endometriosis, also caused by high estrogen, is now afflicting 10% of all women.
  • Breast cancer, also caused by excess estrogen in the body, is afflicting 1 in 7 women worldwide, but especially in industrialized countries.(vi)
  • Uterine fibroids, caused by excess estrogen in the body, affect nearly 25% of all women aged 35 to 50. Today, in fact, as many as 80% of all women have uterine fibroids.(vii)

Common signs of estrogen dominance in women include

  • You cannot put your rings on or take them off your fingers
  • Everyone is saying you’re short tempered, bossy, and irritable.
  • Missed period
  • Big clots passed during periods
  • Getting menstrual cramps a lot, even though you’re approaching menopause
  • Your breast hurts when you’re touched or hugged
  • You’re always tired
  • You have fibroids or endometriosis.
  • You have high cholesterol suddenly

Common signs of estrogen dominance in men

  • You have man boobs
  • Belly fat
  • Irritability and intolerance of other people’s idiosyncrasies
  • Weight gain
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Back pain
  • Headaches

What Should My Estrogen Levels Be?

To find out if you are estrogen dominant, you can simply order a home hormone panel.  Many companies listed on our "Labs" page offer an entire weight loss testing panel from a couple of drops drops of spit saliva.  These tests can confirm your  hormones levels as discussed below.  Patients can also have their physician or endocrinologist run an estradiol blood test.  Order a home test for estradiol here.

If you find out you are estrogen dominant, you can take steps to remove excess estrogen disruptors from your life and follow some of our suggestions for balancing weight-gaining hormones we discuss later in this article.

When you take your estradiol test, you can compare your levels to these below, Normal levels for adults are listed below.

Normal estradiol levels for blood and saliva tests in adults.

Blood tests:

Men: 10-40 pg/mL.

Women: Before menopause:

  • Mid-follicular phase: 27-123 pg/mL
  • Peri-ovulatory: 96-436 pg/mL
  • Mid-luteal phase: 49-294 pg/mL
  • Postmenopausal: 0-40 pg/mL

Women: Post menopause: Under 10 pg/mL

Saliva concentration:

  • Men: 20-70 pg/dL
  • Women: 50-300 pg/dL

Cortisol and Weight Gain

High cortisol frequently causes a saggy belly or pendulous abdomen! Cortisol also blocks your ability to gain weight, throwing your body into stress mode, which causes us to pad our abdomens (the most vulnerable, non-bone protected area of the body) in plenty of FAT.

Cortisol spikes whenever we are stressed. The trouble is, who among us has no stress? And not just psychological/work stress is to blame—any kind of stress is interpreted by the body as stress including illness, toxic stress from the environment and personal care products, over exercising, and mental stress. Even dieting itself is stress to the body!

In fact, the way cortisol works is like this...

That rush of adrenaline you associate with a high stress situation—part of that feeling is cortisol. Cortisol is our main stress hormone. It is one of our fight or flight hormones that works with adrenaline and noradrenaline to power us through dangerous and high stress situations like running from tigers – or muggers. Any high stress situation.

Of course, the body cannot distinguish between different forms of stress. So, that pile of paperwork? Stress. That cold you have? Stress? Those toxic chemicals in the J. Lo Glow you just spritzed your body with after a hot bubble bath in a complementary fragrance, and then applying a toxic mineral bronzer full of lead and other endocrine disrupting cancer-causing chemicals? Stress.

Sustained cortisol causes chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, weight gain, excessive belly fat gain, atrophy of the hippocampus, insomnia, and poor wound healing.

In fact, fat cells in the belly have four times more cortisol receptors compared to fat cells elsewhere, so you just keep reinforcing the muffin top as your cortisol climbs and stays high. It’s not pretty.

When your cortisol levels remain high, your body thinks it is going through a hardship and that it may starve. It will begin to store more fat around the midsection for times of famine (a stress). This also increases insulin levels, and insulin is–you guessed it–the fat storage hormone. High cortisol increases blood sugar to help get you through the stressful situation, but high blood sugar = increased sugar cravings.

Physiology is working against you–high cortisol triggers high insulin and high blood sugar, all of which cause increased fat. This was useful for our ancestors but works against us in modern life. If you’re consuming a diet high in sugar, flour, or grains that break down into sugar, you’re storing even more fat.

If cortisol is high at night (it should be lowest at that point), you’re not sleeping or getting restful sleep, and the body interprets that as stress, and the vicious cycle continues: lack of sleep is a stress = high cortisol = high blood sugar = cravings. You ever notice how you crave sugar & carbs when you don’t sleep well?

What Should My Cortisol Levels Be?

Cortisol is another hormone easily tested and tracked from home.  A simple spit saliva Cortisol test kit can be purchased online.  When determining if Cortisol levels are affecting your weight loss struggles, it is important to track your Cortisol several times throughout the day because cortisol levels should slowly rises as you sleep and should be highest in the morning. In fact, that accumulation of cortisol helps us flip open our eyes in the morning and get up. In short, cortisol levels fluctuate during the day and good hormone panels will have you test your urine at various times during the day to create what is called a “diurnal curve” for your cortisol levels.

Cortisol levels fluctuate greatly after sleeping, eating, exercising, and other activities. However, once you take your cortisol test and send it to the lab, you will get a computer readout analyzing your diurnal cortisol results, that will tell you if your diurnal cortisol reveals that you’re in a state of chronic stress or complete hormonal burnout.

These tables below from ZRT labs show you what a stressed person (high cortisol) and one with adrenal burnout and low cortisol look like.

picture of ZRT Laboratory saliva based cortisol test kit.
picture of ZRT Laboratory saliva based cortisol test kit.

Thyroid

Researchers have long known that hypothyroidism, low thyroid hormone levels, slows the metabolism and causes weight gain. But now, researchers have found that even subtle changes in thyroid hormone that don’t qualify as “hypothyroidism” proper—also cause massive weight gain, typically 12 pounds or more.[1]

First, let me explain that TSH—thyroid stimulating hormone—levels rise whenever your body senses that thyroid is not manufacturing enough thyroid hormone. The TSH test is, in fact, the gold standard test for doctors who want to know if a patient has an underactive (hypothyroidism) or hyperthyroidism (overactive) thyroid.

If the TSH levels are high, then the patient is suffering with low thyroid hormones. This can cause great weight gain and fatigue as well as other symptoms.

As of 2017, at most laboratories in the U.S. the official reference range for the TSH test runs from approximately 0.5 to 4.5 or 5.0 (mIU/L). A patient whose TSH level is within the reference range is referred to as "euthyroid," and is considered to have normal thyroid function. Therefore, anything below .5 mIU/L is going to indicate hypothyroidism.

But this new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that even for those within the references that even small increases in TSH were clearly associated with increases in body weight.  The study authors summarized their findings:

"Thyroid function (as assessed by serum TSH concentration) within the reference range is associated with body weight in both sexes. Our findings raise the possibility that modest increases in serum TSH concentrations within the reference range may be associated with weight gain."

The reason low thyroid hormone causes weight gain is because of the drastic slowing of the metabolism, which means much fewer calories are needed to maintain one’s body weight. Which is going to make weight loss beyond difficult—in fact, impossible.

Losing weight after 30 today is difficult. Losing weight with fat storage hormones in excess is impossible.  Hormone testing can tell you what hormones are preventing your weight loss so you can strategize ways to lower them again.  And there are ways to lower specific hormones.

For example,

How to Lower High Cortisol: Strategies that Really Work

To reduce cortisol levels the best therapies are:

  • First, adaptogenic herbs work wonders. These help you to relieve the stress that is causing the spiked cortisol in the first place. Try Ashwaganda, holy basil, eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) lavender, and other calming herbs like these. They help balance sex hormones, stress hormones, and help you lose weight again.
  • Two, with cortisol, you don’t want the stress of super fat burning exercise forms like HIIT. You want relaxing forms of exercise like slow long walks, yoga, Pilates and stretching. More stress will only make you gain weight, even while exercising.
  • To be honest, dieting will get you nowhere until you lower cortisol.  Instead, concentrate on eating super nutrient dense right now to relieve the starvation stress on your body and give you all the vitamins and minerals you need to give your body the energy it needs to achieve homeostasis.
picture of herbal supplement pills on wooden spoon with raw ingredients of ginger root.
picture of herbal supplement pills on wooden spoon with raw ingredients of ginger root.

Lowering High Estrogen and Reversing Estrogen Dominance

If you find out you are too high in estrogen, try these therapies:

  • First, you need to conduct all out warfare on your environment and habits—cleaning up everything that might be tainted with estrogen-disrupting chemicals from your food, to your personal care products.
  • Also, supplement with estrogen-suppressing nutrients like DIM, SAM-E, B vitamins, and selenium.

As you lose weight you’ll suppress estrogen and cortisol even more because both hormones are stored in belly fat, which acts as an endocrine gland attracting more fat to produce more cortisol and estrogen.

Lowering High Insulin and Normalizing Blood Sugars

To lower insulin, try the following therapies.

  • Cut carbs back to 50 grams a day or less. Cut out refined carbs that spike blood sugar all together. You need to heal insulin before your body is harmed by it.
  • Try supplements that work to curb insulin like apple cider vinegar (with the mother) and chromium. These supplements help to manage blood sugar, helping you lower insulin naturally.
  • One herb called gymenestra is getting a lot of attention right now for its abilities to reported ability to suppress sugar cravings.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise. The easiest ways to lower insulin is exercise, exercise, exercise. Whatever kind of exercise you enjoy, do it at least 30 minutes, every day that you can and watch your blood sugar levels and HOMA-IR score level out fast.

How to Boost a Sluggish Thyroid and Reverse Hypothyroidism

  • Eat to support your thyroid by making sure to eat foods rich in selenium, natural iodine (seaweed, kelp), selenium, omega-3 fats, and zinc.
  • Mindfulness, meditations, arts and crafts, walks in the woods, yoga—find activities you enjoy that lower stress.
  • Exercise - Engage in thyroid stimulating exercise all you can. Whether its roller-skating, tennis, or Zumba, find something you enjoy.
  • Supplement - Vitamin D, zinc, iodineomega-3 fats, selenium, and supplements that support your adrenals.[2]
  • See an endocrinologist, who may prescribe a prescription thyroid medication, like Synthroid.

If you’ve been trying everything and getting nowhere, get empowered. Hormonal imbalances don’t impact just your weight, they impact your well-being in every way possible. Once you know which of your hormones are out of balance, you can use some of the highly effective therapies above to create your own hormone balancing protocol.

Be well and get tested to see if your hormone levels are holding you back from dieting success!

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Sources:

  1. S. Gottfried. 10 Surprising Facts About How Hormones Disrupt Your Health and Weight  S. Gottfried. 10 Surprising Facts About How Hormones Disrupt Your Health and Weight  http://www.saragottfriedmd.com/how-hormones-disrupt-your-health-and-weight/
  2. Turner, N. (2016). Is toxic estrogen causing your weight gain?  https://drnatashaturner.com/toxic-estrogen-causing-weight-gain/
  3. EWG. (201)). Not so sexy: Hidden chemicals in perfume and cologne.  https://www.ewg.org/research/not-so-sexy
  4. EPA. Hormones in water. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-12/documents/lenehan-hormones_in_water_using_spe_and_lc-ms.pdf
  5. McKie, R. (2012). Onset of puberty in girls has fallen by 5 years since 1920. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/oct/21/puberty-adolescence-childhood-onset
  6. Schneider, A. P. (2014). The breast cancer epidemic: 10 facts. Linacre Quarterly, 81(3): 244–277. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135458/ Natural Uterine Fibroids Association. Statistics.  http://www.nuff.org/health_statistics.htm
  7. Sanyal, D. and M. Raychaudhuri. (2016). Hypothyroidism and obesity: An intriguing link. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 20(4): 554-557. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4911848/
  8. Hyman, M. A 7-step plan to boost your low thyroid and metabolism.http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/05/20/a-7-step-plan-to-boost-your-low-thyroid-and-metabolis/