A lot can be done to transition gracefully into each phase of adulthood for women—and men—by gaining a foothold against stress and managing hormones
The subject of stress and hormones is important for everyone—both men and women.
Women tend to have more questions about the role hormones play with regard to weight, particularly weight changes during perimenopause and menopause and also weight changes during their menstrual cycle.
As men get into andropause, they often struggle to keep their weight down or have concerns about estrogen-based risks, too. Hormones are constantly fluctuating and changing, but they play a key role in all these issues.
Our bodies have a single integrated system known as a “super” system that includes the neuro (brain), endocrine (hormone) and immune (gut) systems. There is crosstalk among these three systems, so for example, any dysregulation in the gut will impact and influence the brain and hormones.
This is another reason why having a healthy intestinal “gut” microbiome is so crucial.
So, when we talk about losing weight and overall health, we’re talking about the integration of all three of these systems. This is why losing weight is about getting healthy first and foremost.
The endocrine system, the hormone producing system, actually begins with the hypothalamus in the brain, which sends messages to the pituitary gland. Think of the hypothalamus as the CEO of the hormone corporation and the pituitary gland is the president that answers to the CEO. Taking orders from the pituitary (president) are other glands that we can think of as factories that pump out their own hormones:
- The pituitary gland (in the brain) controls metabolism, growth, sexual maturation, reproduction, blood pressure and many other vital functions
- The pancreas produces insulin that regulates glucose control;
- The thyroid gland produces T4/3 hormones that regulate metabolism;
- The adrenal glands produce a hormone called cortisol that regulates stress;
- The ovaries/testes produce hormones like estrogen and testosterone for reproduction;
- The pineal gland produces melatonin for sleep and circadian rhythm; and
- The thymus gland produces disease-fighting hormones that support the immune system.
All together, these make up our hormone system, and the brain regulates and controls them all.
When there is an imbalance in gut health, it communicates this imbalance to the brain which then creates an imbalance in the hormones as well. This is what is meant by “cross talk” and is why the standard medical model of treating only one of these areas where symptoms occur doesn’t work.
The functional medicine model instead looks at the mechanisms in the entire super system that is driving the hormone cascade.
2 Types Of Bad Stress Increase Weight and Belly Fat
As most people know, there’s good stress and bad stress.
Gravity is considered good stress in that it keeps muscles and bones strong; for some people, deadlines create good stress because it makes them more productive and creative.
On the other hand, we want to avoid the two main types of bad stress:
- Emotional stress (worry and fear); and, less recognized,
- Physiological stress (negative chemical changes in the body such as blood sugar, underlying infections, poor sleep, etc.).
When there is a stress overload, our bodies reach a point where they simply can’t handle it anymore. Toxins, including those from inside us (that our bodies make) begin to back up into the system.
Every single day hormones have to be made, or produced (via messages sent from the brain to the glands telling them to manufacture hormones), activated (via cellular metabolism), and eliminated via our detoxification pathways. Toxins make it harder for hormones to be metabolized and cleared by the body.
Estrogen “metabolites”, meaning the end-products of hormonal metabolism, are pro-inflammatory, and can cause what is called “oxidative stress”. Estrogen that is not cleared will be stored as fat; likewise, fat in the body will accumulate estrogen, which becomes a vicious cycle. In addition, we accumulate an abundance of toxins from everyday life, known as obesogens, which are chemicals in the environment that cause obesity—these are endocrine disruptors.
Going back to a couple strategies we already talked about and building on those: choosing organic foods helps to lower the toxic load overall. In addition, lowering our exposure to plastics throughout our food supply, such as in plastic water and soda bottles, is essential to lowering our body burden. Bisphenol-A, or BPAs,.are the number one top hormone “endocrine” disruptor we are exposed to daily.
Regarding nutrition, the good news is that there are a number of strategies to detoxify. These include increasing fiber and water intake that we discussed, introducing bone broth and limeade fasts to gently release toxins. Importantly, there is also a paramount need for consistent exercise (which can be quite “low and slow” for fat burning) and deep level REM sleep to move our lymphatics and process wastes—the goal is to detoxify important organs like the liver, gallbladder, lymphatics, and kidneys. To the best of our abilities, we also want to remove from our bodies the constant exposures from toxins in our food & water supply that we can.
Action Steps: When we talk about detoxification, we are referring to both macro and micro concepts – So, a macro concept is “Is our body processing wastes that are normal internal end products of metabolism (Do we perspire readily? Move our bowels everyday? etc).” Complete the Hormone Metabolism checklist to find out where you could be deficient.
If there’s one key takeaway for today’s exercise it’s this: Collectively, inefficient detoxification and exposure to toxins (along with prolonged physiological stress) will cause our bodies to not only hold onto toxins, embedding them into fatty tissues, but will cause a shift in hormones as a result. Combined, these two things will produce a slow-down in our metabolism and we will pack on the weight. So, to reverse that, we need a multi-pronged approach that includes running a few tests to identify where your body is out of balance.
Dr. Douglas J. Pucci, Founder, Get Well Now, is a functional medicine pioneer and Bergen County’s Face of Functional Medicine. He was honored to receive both The Best Of 2020 Awards for Functional Medicine in Oradell, NJ, and entry into Trademark Publications’ 2020 Who’s Who Directory, Honors Edition.