Hormones are chemical messengers that are transported in the bloodstream to target cells throughout the body. The blood concentration of a substance often prompts an endocrine gland to secrete its hormone. Hormone functions include:
- growth and development
- sexual function
Pretty impressive right? The number one role of hormones is to keep things balanced. These little guys are powerful, and the littlest thing can throw that balance right off. Hormone balance is especially important when it comes to weight regulation. The hormones involved in this delicate balance include insulin, glucagon, and leptin. We will save cortisol (stress hormone) for another post. Let’s break these down one by one.
- Insulin: This is the one you have probably heard the most about. You might even know that it has something to do with blood sugar. You would be correct. Insulin is an anabolic (building or storing) hormone that is produced in the pancreas and it targets the liver, muscles, and adipose tissue (fat cells). Its role is to lower blood sugar (glucose) levels and to promote the formation of glycogen. It mainly stores carbohydrates by burning carbohydrates and turning them into fat.
- Glucagon: Glucagon is a catabolic hormone that does the exact opposite of what insulin does. It aids in accessing energy that has been previously stored in the liver and fat cells and tells the body to release fat and stabilize blood sugar. It too is made in the pancreas.
- Leptin: Leptin is known as the “energy balance” hormone and the “satiety” hormone. It works by telling the brain how much body fat is stored and it regulates both energy intake and expenditure to help keep body fat levels balanced.
Food and Hormones
Have you considered that the food you eat is playing a role in how our bodies’ hormones signal each other? Here is one illustration:
When your diet looks like (the photo on the right) your body is having to release a lot of insulin to bring your blood glucose levels back down to a safe and normal level in the blood. When your body is producing a good amount of insulin from meal to meal and from day to day it is basically (as mentioned above) storing carbohydrates by burning them and turning them into fat.
It simply makes you fat.
According to It Starts With Food:
“Chronically elevated blood glucose levels are highly damaging to many body systems, including the liver, pancreas, kidneys, blood vessels, brain and peripheral nerves. Managing blood sugar is critical for long-term health.”
To top it all off, when the liver and muscle cells become so full of glycogen any additional glucose circulating in the blood gets converted into triglycerides. High levels of circulating triglycerides in the bloodstream is linked to atherosclerosis which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. See, it’s not fat in our diets that cause heart disease- it’s sugar.
In contrast, when you eat a diet made up of quality meats, fats, vegetables, and moderate fruits the opposite will happen. You will burn fat. This is true because the body is not being overloaded with carbohydrates so it is not producing large amounts of insulin and is instead being able to release fat from cells. Glucagon is stimulated by low blood sugar levels and protein intake. It is not able to work appropriately when there are elevated insulin and free fatty acids (triglycerides) in the blood.
So where does leptin come into play? As mentioned above it is the “energy balance” and “satiety” hormone. It tells the brain the current situation you have going on in your fat cells and whether you need to keep eating and move less (to gain) or if you need to stop eating and move more (to lose). If you are eating a highly refined, processed carbohydrate diet you have an excess of glucose and triglycerides which begins to disrupt leptin’s messages to the brain. Also known as leptin resistance. It almost puts a wall up between the two so you can no longer hear that you have too much energy stored and you no longer need to keep eating. I like the way It Starts With Food puts this as well:
Imagine your brain is blind, unable to see your chubby reflection in the mirror or the creeping number on the scale. It needs leptin to give it the facts it can’t see. So until the brain hears leptin say, “Ok, we’re fat enough,” the brain is going to keep telling you to eat more and move less, to ensure your survival.
If this continues (and most likely it will if you do not decide to eat a different way) the blood will continue to be saturated with high blood glucose and eventually your pancreas will give up and give out. When the body can no longer produce insulin at the rate needed to manage blood sugar a pretty common thing will happen. It’s a little disease we like to call Type 2 Diabetes.
It is important to mention that while we are just discussing the role of a high carb diet on leptin there are also other factors that come into play that throw this hormone off balance. These include: sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption, excess polyunsaturated fats, stress, and toxicity. We can touch on those another time!
Eating for Balance
Now that the not so fun stuff is out of the way and you have a better picture of what is happening in the body let’s talk about what we can do to keep this situation balanced and under control. The answer is simple:
Just eat differently.
Eat foods that help the body release fat instead of hindering it. Eat foods that keep your blood sugar levels even and steady which reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases and aids in helping you feel your very best! No more crashes! No more feeling addicted to food. If you choose a diet of real whole foods lower in carbohydrates it will aid in keeping the body in proper balance, which ultimately helps with weight loss and weight maintenance.
Have you struggled with fat loss? Let us know what you think and if you have personally found yourself dealing with these issues?