By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
September 04, 2013
- Why is belly fat so stubborn?
- When hunger hormones race out of control
- Two tips to regain hormonal balance
This is the first of a 4-part series on hormones. This series will give you a deep understanding of hormones and how they affect belly fat.
My female patients tend to call it a “muffin-top.” Men refer to it as their “spare tire” or “beer belly.”
But it all boils down to the same thing… stubborn belly fat!
Also known as visceral fat, this is the worst type of fat to have. That’s because it’s concentrated deep in the abdomen where it places pressure on critical organs. And it leads to all sorts of problems you would never think of.
Belly fat is linked to diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, poor bone density and higher rates of death from all causes. It’s also the hardest type of fat to get rid of. Even sit-ups and crunches don’t seem to have much impact on it because they only develop muscle, they don’t get rid of fat.
What most people don’t realize is hormones probably are at the root of the problem. And it’s not just estrogen and testosterone that cause middle-age spread. There are many other hormones circulating through your body that influence the way your fat cells develop.
In this 4-part series I’ll show you exactly which hormones are involved, and what you can do about them.
If you want to lose that belly fat, getting the upper hand on these rogue hormones is the best way to do it…
As we age the amount of hormones we produce changes. The production of some of them increases, others decline and still others remain unchanged. However, if you’re struggling with stubborn belly fat, I’ll pretty much guarantee you have some sort of hormonal imbalance going on.
Two of the most important hormones when it comes to your waistline are leptin and ghrelin. These are the hormones that control your hunger.
Leptin sends satiety signals to the brain when you’re full. Ghrelin, on the other hand, sends hunger signals to the brain when it’s time to re-fuel.
So when everything is working properly, leptin kicks in after you eat and keeps your appetite in-check until you’re body needs food again. Then ghrelin kicks into action to make you hungry again.
But when these signals get out of synch with your body’s actual food needs, it affects how much you eat… and makes it easy to pack on the pounds. Energy levels also become depleted.
There are several factors that can affect the signaling of these hormones. One of the most important is the amount of sleep you get each night.
That’s right, sleep!
Here’s the thing. If you don’t get enough sleep it makes your levels of ghrelin rise. This leaves you feeling hungry all of the time. At the same time, it decreases levels of leptin, so you never feel completely satisfied after eating.
In other words, your appetite rages out of control and you always want more food.
Research shows people who regularly sleep 5 hours a night have lower leptin and higher ghrelin than those who get 8 hours.
And it’s not just long-term sleep patterns that count. It turns out just two days of restricted sleep can decrease leptin and cause ghrelin levels to skyrocket. In a study setting, just two days of sleep deprivation also increased cravings for foods high in carbohydrates and calories.
There are plenty of things you can do to help get a full night’s sleep. You’ll find some great tips in this previous issue.
There’s one more thing you need to know about leptin and ghrelin. It’s a common mistake almost all of us have made during our lives…
If you’ve ever tried a short-term diet you might have lost a few pounds, only to put them back on after completing the diet. This is unfortunate, because almost everyone with weight issues or excess belly fat tries one of these diets from time to time.
There’s a reason why diets don’t work well for weight-loss. And it has everything to do with leptin and ghrelin.
You see, on-again, off-again “dieting” can really throw these two hormones out of whack. And it can take over a year to bring them back into balance. Let me explain…
A few years ago a group of researchers out of Australia put 50 overweight or obese patients on a low-calorie diet for ten weeks. They measured levels of leptin and ghrelin at the beginning of the study, at ten weeks and again at 62 weeks. And guess what they discovered?
Even though the patients initially lost weight, the diet lowered leptin levels and increased ghrelin. So there was a big increase in the patient’s appetite. The problem is, more than a year later – long after the diet was completed – the hormones hadn’t returned to normal.
Rather than taking part in a short-term diet, I always recommend eating a steady, healthy Mediterranean-style diet as a regular practice. And it’s not hard to do.
In a nutshell, make antioxidant-rich vegetables the central focus of your meals and enjoy all of the seafood you want. Snacking on fruits, berries, nuts and seeds between meals will help keep your ghrelin levels in check throughout the day so you don’t overeat at meals.
You can find more details on eating the Mediterranean way here.
Check your inbox on Friday (September 6) to learn about other hormones that may be responsible for that stubborn belly fat and what you can do to control them.
Taheri S, et al. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med. 2004 Dec;1(3):e62. Epub 2004 Dec 7.
Spiegel K, et al. Brief communication: Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Ann Intern Med. 2004 Dec 7;141(11):846-50.
Sumithran P, et al. Long-term persistence of hormonal adaptations to weight loss. N Engl J Med. 2011 Oct 27;365(17):1597-604