Regulating our body weight has a layer of complexity due to the hormones our bodies produce.
All hormones have a purpose. Whether it’s to let you know you’re hungry or full, burn fat, or store it, there’s a hormone for that.
Hormones are largely influenced by our dietary choices and our lifestyle habits.
Below, we’ll get into the most important hormones when it comes to weight loss and how they all revolve around the keto diet.
Read on to learn more about what hormones are and which ones you need to know.
The Function Of Hormones
Hormones are chemical messengers that relay information between cells.
They send signals to other cells in the body, regulating processes like growth and development, metabolism, reproduction, digestion, and mood.
Receptors on cells listen for hormones and determine what action the cell should take in response.
When it comes to weight management, factors such as food consumption, physical activity, genetics, and the environment all play a role in how many calories are needed to balance hormones.
The body secretes hormones responsible for appetite and the regulation of metabolism. Hormones can also affect blood sugar, heart rate, and biochemistry.
Hormones come from various parts of the endocrine system, including the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, adrenal cortex, ovaries, and testes.
In men, the endocrine system is regulated by the hypothalamus, pituitary, and testes. In women, the hypothalamus and pituitary regulate the ovaries.
Hormones usually act in response to a need and cause a change in an organ or tissue.
In the case of weight management, hormones act to regulate the body’s metabolism. For example, fat cells produce certain hormones that suppress food intake and make people feel full.
Let’s take a look at the biggest hormones when it comes to weight management and how to get them to balance harmoniously.
Hormones Responsible For Weight Loss
When it comes to losing weight, some hormones can help or hurt you when you’re on the ketogenic diet.
Here are the 7 most important hormones for losing weight:
Insulin is a hormone that regulates the level of blood sugar in our bodies.
It controls how much sugar is in your blood by prompting your body to absorb glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream, store it as glycogen for later use, or convert it to fat.
The pancreas makes insulin in response to a high-carbohydrate meal. However, in normal diabetics, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels stable.
Put simply, insulin keeps us from losing weight. This is because it tells the body to store fat so that it can be used later when blood sugar levels are too low.
The more insulin in the blood, the more fat you will burn into energy rather than storing it as body fat.
When on the ketogenic diet, insulin levels in the blood are very low. Because blood sugar levels are kept stable, your body will not store fat. In fact, ketogenic dieters often experience increased weight loss and decreased appetite.
Leptin is a hormone that regulates hunger and the body’s metabolism. Therefore, a person’s appetite and energy use are directly influenced by levels of leptin.
It plays a key role in controlling weight gain by regulating the body’s hunger and fat storage.
Leptin signals body cells, such as muscle cells, to use less energy, and it also signals cells to stop making certain proteins that cause a feeling of being full.
Jeffrey Friedman first discovered leptin in 1994 and saw that genetically engineered mice that lack a functional leptin gene became obese. This discovery led to leptin being studied as a tool for treating obesity. (1)
In obese people, extra fat is stored in blood vessels and fat cells. These fat cells continue to make more leptin, but the body does not use it.
The cause of obesity in people is not always that they eat too much and become fat.
Sometimes obesity is caused by the body not making enough hormone leptin, which leads to overeating. When too little leptin is made, the body does not get rid of the extra fat.
In 1996, two groups reported the first success in treating leptin deficiency with recombinant human leptin.
The first group treated normal mice with chronically low levels of leptin. The mice gained less weight and had better insulin sensitivity, and these benefits persisted over several weeks. (2)
Blood insulin levels and leptin levels go down on a ketogenic diet.
People who are on low-carb diets like keto that experience weight reductions also see reduced leptin levels. Typically, that would signal to the brain to eat more food, but the brain’s sensitivity to leptin is increased on a ketogenic diet. (3)
Ghrelin is a hormone that regulates appetite. So it’s an appetite stimulant that controls feelings of hunger.
Ghrelin is often referred to as “the hunger hormone” since ghrelin levels rise before meals and fall after a meal to maintain energy balance.
In overweight and obese people, ghrelin does not appear to rise before meals as it does in thinner people. This is one reason that overweight people may eat more than their energy needs.
Many factors impact ghrelin levels, including diet. Elevated ghrelin levels alone do not cause weight gain but are part of a larger response to weight loss.
Cortisol is a hormone released by the anterior glands near the kidney in response to stress, and it’s often referred to as “the stress hormone.”
Cortisol lowers glucose levels in the bloodstream, reduces immune function, and suppresses the release of insulin. In other words, cortisol can trigger your body to store fat.
The body responds to stress by releasing cortisol. This cortisol release is generally considered a normal stress response and can help in the short term when the body needs to respond to a stressful situation.
However, if cortisol levels are too high, this may result in unwanted weight gain.
The cortisol hormone has been shown to cause a decrease in insulin sensitivity in people who are on the ketogenic diet.
Since the ketogenic diet has been shown to treat metabolic syndrome, researchers are led to believe that keto also reduces cortisol processes related to metabolic syndrome. (5)
Testosterone And Estrogen
Testosterone and estrogen are two active hormones that are responsible for both sexual characteristics and fat storage.
Hormones, such as testosterone, cause fat cells to take up lipids (lipogenesis) and store them in the form of triglycerides.
These lipids then accumulate in different regions of the body like our stomachs, thighs, etc. Thus, estrogen’s role is more complicated.
It helps to store fat in some areas of the body as well, but it also regulates how much we eat by influencing hunger levels and energy expenditure.
Adequate testosterone production is important in maintaining muscle mass and sex drive.
Testosterone levels have been found to be higher in men following the ketogenic diet than those following other diets or no dietary intervention. (6)
Eating a ketogenic diet is typically shown to suppress the body’s production of estrogen.
A ketogenic diet has a significant amount of good-quality fats and very few carbs. This causes the body to burn fat for fuel, which means that hormones like estrogen could be lower.
As you can see, our hormones control a lot when it comes to losing weight.
The hormones we talked about, insulin, leptin, ghrelin, cortisol, testosterone, and estrogen, have very important roles in the body, whether you’re a man or woman.
Keto helps with all these hormones, which is why it’s such a popular weight loss diet.
High-fat diets reduce insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol. This is a good thing when it comes to losing weight and will affect your ability to do so if these hormones are out of whack.