Can Hormones Slow Metabolism and Increase Fat Storage?

When it comes to weight gain, blame it on the hormones. These chemicals do a lot of good in our body, but health issues and stress can throw them off balance and cause problems.

For a few people, an injury can hurt their hormone balance, such as a pituitary disorder stemming from a brain injury. That pituitary disorder affects weight.

For others, many different things affect hormones, like genes, stress levels, and diet.

There are nine hormones that control your metabolism, hunger, and the ability to store or burn body fat. They literally make or break your ability to lose weight.  If any of these hormones is imbalanced, you can gain weight.


1. Leptin, the “full” messenger.

Leptin is the hormone that tells you you’re full. It also plays a role in metabolism and helps your body decide when to burn fat.

Fat cells release lepton into the blood so it goes to your brain and signals that you're full.

This process works well until we introduce too much fructose, the sugar found in fruit and processed foods. Small amounts of fructose are fine and good for energy.

Eating more than five daily servings of fruit can put you over the recommended amount. The real problem is all the fructose and high fructose corn syrup added to almost all processed foods.

On the Standard American Diet, the liver can't process or burn the fructose fast enough so it gets converted to fat and sent into the bloodstream as triglycerides. These get deposited in the liver and belly.

As more fructose is turned to fat, leptin levels increase because fat produces leptin.

Soon the body becomes resistant to lepton and its message of “you’re full”  and we keep eating and gaining weight.

So leptin by itself doesn’t necessary slow the metabolism and increase fat storage, but when we consume too much fructose, it certainly does.

Sleep is another factor that affects leptin.

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology produced a paper that said that sleep is a major factor in producing leptin, due to the fact that “sleep modulates a major component of the neuroendocrine control of appetite…”

Try to resist eating just before bed to help control your leptin levels. When leptin gets out of balance, it can trigger a chain reaction affecting other hormones in your body like cortisol.


2. Cortisol, the stress hormone.

Cortisol is released in response to stress and suppresses the amount of attention your brain gives to your body’s routine functions in stressful situations.

While it has its uses, it can also be released in any high-stress episode, such as a traffic jam. Cortisol can also be released from consuming too much junk-food or even over-exercising.

Over time, these high cortisol levels mean that your body stores fat and breaks down muscle, slowing your metabolism.

Signs that your cortisol levels are abnormal can include:

  • Weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Hair loss
  • Low libido
  • Abnormal digestion

The most effective way to reduce your cortisol levels, and its impact on your body, is to reduce stress. Cortisol spikes when you wake up, and you metabolize your breakfast slower – so try squeeze in a workout or just get a little active before having your first meal.

Coffee can raise cortisol levels, so if you’re struggling with stress or hormone issues, consider cutting coffee for tea and then caffeine-free tea to wean yourself off.

The study “Sleep Loss Results in an Elevation of Cortisol Levels the Next Evening” concluded that cortisol spikes are more beneficial in the morning, and that higher levels of the hormone can increase overall stress, resulting in a vicious cycle.

All of this negatively effects your metabolism, and cortisol will make you eat sugary foods, increasing fat storage.


3. Ghrelin, the hunger messenger.

This hormone lets you know you’re hungry. At normal levels, it serves an important function, but too much ghrelin can make you crave food and then overeat.

Lack of sleep, stress and other imbalanced hormones can all lead to ghrelin spikes. If you’ve ever felt hungry when you’re stressed or close to your period, that’s a ghrelin spike.

Reproductive hormones raise ghrelin levels, and inevitably makes it more difficult to lose weight and keep motivation levels high.


4. Adiponectin, the protein hormone that regulates glucose levels.

This hormone helps the body maintain normal glucose levels. It’s another important hormone involved in weight loss because it helps your body burn and break down fat.

It’s anti-inflammatory in nature, so the body releases it in situations where you need to combat inflammation. This means that junk food or acidic foods, as well as injuries, can result in an over exposure to Adiponectin.

When this happens, it prevents your body from burning fat efficiently as it is distracted dealing with these jobs. The right levels of this hormone reduce your chances of getting diabetes, and is closely related to Insulin.


5. Insulin, the fat trapper and blood sugar regulator.

Most people know this hormone through its reputation as being closely linked to diabetes. Its role in processing food, particularly sugar, makes it one of the most vital hormones to control in the process of losing weight.

If you have a really sugary diet, your insulin levels can rise to unsustainable levels, and their ability to do their job diminishes when your body becomes resistant to its effects.

This is what leads to diabetes.

Beyond that, insulin effectively traps fat and makes it difficult to burn off.

The Journal of Applied Psychology found that stress and poor quality sleep contributed to hunger, cravings, weight gain, and eventually insulin resistance and diabetes.

High insulin can cause rolls on the stomach too. High sugar intake can overload your body with insulin and effectively make it resistant to its effects. Symptoms of this process can include:

  • Obesity, particularly excess fat in the abdominal area
  • Acne
  • High blood pressure
  • Craving sugar and carbs
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome in women

Combat high insulin by reducing the amount of “beige” carbs in your diet, and get your intake instead from veggies and fruits, nuts and seeds.

Protein is good, especially lean meats. Cut out as much sugar from your diet as you can, particularly processed sugars, and find alternatives – not just sweeteners! They have the potential to be just as bad.


6. Glucagon, the fat releaser hormone.

Glucagon is the opposite of insulin. While insulin traps fat in your tissues, glucagon releases it, but the two hormones are closely interlinked, meaning that if one is off balance, the other has a harder time doing its job.

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism published a study that found that poor sleep, as well as a poor diet, directly affect glucagon levels.


7. Growth Hormone

This hormone keeps you young! It contributes toward muscle growth, gives you energy, and effects metabolism.

There’s a catch.

It’s only produced in what’s known as “stage 4 sleep,” or deep sleep.

That means that any factor that influences sleep also effects the production of this hormone. The usual suspects apply such as diet, exercise, stress, caffeine.


8. Testosterone for healthy muscle and metabolism

We could discuss what testosterone does for men, but that’s a fairly commonly covered topic.

It’s not as common to talk about what testosterone does for women. Don’t be fooled—women need testosterone just as much as men do.

For both sexes, testosterone contributes towards healthy muscle growth and metabolism. If you’re suffering from low testosterone, you may be experiencing some of the following:

  • Tiredness, sometimes chronic, even after a good night’s rest
  • Trouble losing weight
  • Low sex drive
  • Mood swings, depression
  • Anxiety, lack of concentration
  • Thinning hair

Women don’t want too much testosterone, but a healthy amount helps us manage our weight.

To help balance your testosterone levels, try to exercise daily, even if it’s just a half hour walk.

Maintaining a healthy sex life is also a good (and fun) way of raising testosterone levels.

Get quality sleep, around 8 hours a night. Zinc-rich foods like whole grains, seafood, and nuts are also great for your testosterone levels.

It’s important to have balanced levels of testosterone and estrogen, even though that’s not something we normally think about.


9. Estrogen for weight and insulin production

High estrogen  levels can actually cause weight gain around your hips and thighs.


Estrogen normally helps regulate body weight and is closely linked to insulin production. This means however that an imbalance of estrogen can cause rapid weight gain.

Most foods contain energy that your body processes as a form of glucose, or sugar, and it’s dealt with by your body in three separate areas.

Muscles process glucose as raw energy, after which it goes to be stored as fat, and the rest goes to your liver. An estrogen imbalance sends more of this energy to be stored as fat.

Estrogen can be thrown off by a number of things, often things found in everyday processed foods like pesticides and synthetic hormones in meat.

These are basically toxins that your body treats like estrogen, and pose dangers when consumed in high enough quantities, as they can result in the development of estrogen-associated diseases like breast and ovarian cancers.

Here are some symptoms of having higher than normal estrogen:

  • An irregular menstrual cycle
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Low libido
  • Bloating, sore breasts
  • Headaches


The most common cause of this is usually meat, which contains fats and those synthetic hormones like antibiotics and steroids.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t eat meat. It’s more about how the meat was raised. Look for organic, free range meat products without hormones or antibiotics.

Also try introducing more fiber into your diet, which can help flush these toxins from your system more efficiently.

Fresh fruits like apples and melons are also good as they contain a compound called “flavone” that helps suppress estrogen.


When thinking about managing and balancing hormones, many of the same things help different issues.

Good sleep, plenty of water, a healthy diet of good fats, and avoiding chemicals in your food will help many hormone issues.

Hormones are the body’s way of directing functions, and hormones can be our allies in our health care.

To learn more, visit




“Hormones and Weight Gain.” Christina Carlyle.

“How to Turn Off Your Weight Gain with Hormones” Sara Gottfied, MD