Hormonal Weight Gain: Which Hormones Affect Weight Gain?

Elite HRT

Written by Elite HRT on November 01, 2021

Medically reviewed by

Camille Frecking, Regulatory Affairs Specialist, MEDICAL ADVISOR

Did you know that hormones are directly connected to how much you weigh? This is something many people overlook as they struggle to lose weight. To maintain a healthy body weight, hormonal balance is essential. If certain hormones are imbalanced, weight gain can follow.  

Read on to learn more about how hormones are involved in your appetite, metabolism, and body weight.

What Are Hormones?

Hormones are chemical messengers in the body that affect many different body processes and play a big role in many aspects of your health. Produced in certain glands in the body — including the adrenal glands, parathyroid, thyroid, and pituitary — hormones are released into the bloodstream, where they travel to your skin, organs, muscles, and other tissues to coordinate different bodily functions.

Hormonal imbalance is when there is too little or too much of a hormone in the body. This can have a tremendous impact on your health, including body weight. 

In order to lose weight and keep it off, it’s important to understand which hormones play a role in body weight. Once you understand the relationship between hormones and how much you weigh, you can take the proper steps to work toward balancing your hormones and lose weight in a healthy way. 

What Is Hormonal Weight Gain?

Hormonal weight gain is associated with hormonal imbalance. There are many hormones that are linked to weight gain. 

For men, hormonal weight gain is often tied to low testosterone, coupled with high levels of estrogen, which can lead to a decrease in muscle mass. High cortisol levels — associated with stress — can also lead to an increase of fat cells that settle around a man’s abdominal area.

For women, a type of estrogen called estradiol helps regulate metabolism. As a woman ages, her estradiol levels decline, which may cause weight gain, particularly around the hips and thighs. 

Weight gain is one of the most common symptoms of a hormonal imbalance. While some weight fluctuations are normal throughout a person’s lifetime, gaining a significant amount of weight in a short period of time can be a sign of hormonal imbalance. 

Which Hormones Affect Weight Gain?

Hormones play a major role in regulating your appetite, metabolism, and muscle mass, all of which are tied to your body weight. An imbalance of the following hormones may lead to weight gain.

  • Insulin. Produced by the pancreas, insulin regulates the absorption of glucose (sugar) by cells in the body, and helps keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range. An insulin imbalance means that your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be. This may cause the body to store fat more easily. If left untreated, insulin imbalance can lead to type 2 diabetes.
  • Leptin. Leptin is the hormone that tells your body you’re full and it’s time to stop eating. Released from fat cells, leptin also plays a role in energy expenditure. Because it is produced in fat cells, more fat cells should mean that you don’t feel as hungry often. However, people carrying extra weight often develop leptin resistance. This means that leptin signals to the brain don’t tell you you’re full and can cause cravings for foods high in carbohydrates and fat. 
  • Ghrelin. Known as the hunger hormone, ghrelin signals “hunger” to the brain. Some experts believe that sensitivity to this hormone may be a factor in weight gain and obesity. People who have a ghrelin imbalance or sensitivity may feel hungry even when the body does not need additional calories. In addition to sending hunger signals, ghrelin stimulates the release of human growth hormone, which helps keep muscles strong and breaks down fat tissue. 
  • Human growth hormone. Human growth hormone is secreted by the pituitary gland. In adults, it helps keep your bones and muscles strong. It also plays a role in metabolism. Research shows that low human growth hormone levels can lead to weight gain. Human growth hormone injections can help reduce fat throughout the body, particularly around the abdomen. 
  • Testosterone. Testosterone is one of the primary male sex hormones. Low testosterone levels — particularly in men — are linked to a decrease in muscle mass and an increase in fat around the abdomen. Men with testosterone deficiency tend to gain weight more easily than men with testosterone levels within the normal range. Research shows that men with obesity are more likely to have lower testosterone levels than men who are within a healthy weight. 
  • Estrogen. Estrogen is one of the primary female sex hormones. As a woman ages, her estrogen levels decline. One study found that as estradiol (a type of estrogen) levels decline, women experience an increase in weight and body fat, particularly around the abdomen. Estrogen levels that are too high can also lead to weight gain. High levels of estrogen can make your body insulin-resistant, which leads to high glucose (blood sugar) levels and may cause weight gain.   

What Are the Risk Factors of Hormonal Weight Gain?

In both men and women, hormone levels begin to decline in the mid to late twenties. This means that hormonal imbalance is common as you get older. While everyone will experience a decline in certain hormones as they age, some people are more at risk for experiencing hormonal weight gain. 

Risk factors include: 

  • Cushing’s disease 
  • Genetics (particularly if you have a family medical history of hormonal imbalance)
  • Hypothyroidism 
  • Pituitary tumors or surgeries 
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) 
  • Menopause 
  • Sedentary lifestyle 
  • Type 2 diabetes

What Are the Signs of Hormonal Weight Gain?

If you’ve gained weight while remaining active and eating healthy foods, your weight gain may be caused by a hormonal imbalance. 

Other signs of hormonal imbalance include:

  • Acne 
  • Brain fog 
  • Change in appetite or thirst
  • Depression 
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Increase in abdominal fat 
  • Irregular periods 
  • Loss of libido 
  • Mood swings 
  • Puffy face
  • Sleep troubles
  • Thyroid goiter

How Is Hormonal Weight Gain Diagnosed?

If you suspect you have a hormonal imbalance, it’s important to see a doctor to discuss your symptoms. Your doctor will likely begin the appointment by asking about your medical history, family history, and asking about your symptoms (what they are, how long you’ve experienced them, etc.). They will also give you a physical examination. 

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may order diagnostic tests to determine if a hormonal imbalance is the cause of your weight gain. Most often, blood work and lab tests are ordered to test your levels of estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, human growth hormone, and thyroid hormones. 

What Are The Treatments For Hormonal Weight Gain?

There are a number of treatments available to help reduce and reverse hormonal weight gain. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best course of action for you. 

Potential treatments include: 

  • Lifestyle modifications, such as exercise, stress reduction, and eating a healthy diet 
  • Thyroid hormone replacement
  • Testosterone replacement 
  • Medications that help balance hormones 
  • Medications to regulate insulin levels 

What Are the Health Risks Associated With Hormonal Weight Gain?

Hormonal weight gain can lead to a number of concerning health issues. 

Weight gain, particularly obesity, is associated with a high risk of developing chronic health conditions, mood disturbances, and more, including: 

  • Cancer 
  • Diabetes type 2 
  • Infertility 
  • Gallbladder disease 
  • Heart disease 
  • High cholesterol
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) 
  • Mood swings
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Stroke
  • Sleep troubles 

Hormonal imbalance can be treated through hormone replacement therapy. If you have symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, it’s important to see your doctor. Treating hormonal imbalance can help prevent the health risks associated with weight gain. 

Conclusion

Hormonal weight gain is potentially reversible if the underlying cause is addressed and treated properly. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, exercising, and getting good sleep can help manage hormonal weight gain and decrease the associated health risks. 

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Concerned you may have a hormonal imbalance? Contact us at Elite HRT. One of our wellness consultants would be happy to discuss your symptoms and help determine if hormone replacement therapy may be helpful for you. 

Our doctors will work with you to develop an individualized hormone replacement therapy treatment plan to help balance your hormones and improve your overall health and well-being. 

At Elite HRT, we have helped many individuals who struggled with weight gain due to hormonal imbalance. 

Get started today by filling out your pre-consult questionnaire

Sources:

Endocrine Diseases | NIDDK 

Obesity, Growth Hormone and Weight Loss | National Library of Medicine

Plasma ghrelin levels after diet-induced weight loss or gastric bypass surgery | National Library of Medicine

Lowered testosterone in male obesity: mechanisms, morbidity and management | NCBI

What Does Estrogen Have to Do with Belly Fat? | University of Rochester Medical Center

Central Effects of Estradiol in the Regulation of Adiposity | NCBI

Adult Obesity Causes and Consequences | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention