The complicated world of hormones, from the gut to the brain, plays a pivotal role in how hungry or full you feel, how efficiently you metabolise food, and where fat lands on your body. That affects the success you have at losing and maintaining weight, especially as you get older. By understanding how hormones do their jobs, you get a better overall picture of the weight loss landscape. Here’s a line-up of hormones that play a role in weight control.
Produced by fat cells, leptin is involved with eating and appetite regulation. The level of leptin in your body is directly proportionate to your body fat; more body fat means more leptin in your blood. Here’s the catch: The more fat you accumulate, the less responsive your body is to leptin, and so your brain doesn’t get the ‘stop eating’ message as strongly. Researchers are investigating leptin’s role as an appetite regulator and trying to determine ways to alter the mechanism. For now, the best thing you can do is build more muscle mass and decrease fat tissue by becoming physically active. This will help your body be more responsive to its leptin signals.
This oddly spelt hormone signals hunger and tells the brain it’s time to eat. Ghrelin levels rise shortly before you eat and diminish once you’re full. Blocking ghrelin production to reduce hunger feelings is one avenue researchers are investigating as a potential way to control appetite. Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, impaired ghrelin levels (in addition to a smaller stomach) may be one of the reasons why people who have had gastric bypass surgery can be satisfied with much smaller quantities of food; their hunger signals have been rewired or bypassed.
Everyone knows insulin control is critical for people with type1 diabetes, but insulin also dictates how efficiently you metabolise food, whether you have diabetes or not. It also acts together with leptin when calories increase to initiate the ‘stop eating’ message. As you acquire more fat, the body becomes insulin-resistant, meaning insulin cannot properly get energy (glucose) into the cells. Blood sugar levels rise out of control, sometimes resulting in full-blown diabetes. That’s why weight control acts as one of the first lines of defence against diabetes. By maintaining a normal weight, you remain insulin-efficient and avoid further health complications.