In last week’s column we examined the role of exercise for weight loss and improved body composition. We learned that exercise plays a crucial role in successfully improving body composition. We learned that there are three main components for exercise to be beneficial. Exercise should be fun, effective, and have support from friends, teammates, or trainers. We also learned about the most effective exercise-related weight loss strategy. This strategy involves combining weight bearing activities with cardiovascular activities to encourage prolonged periods of fat burning. In this week’s column we will investigate how the health of your hormones can affect your weight.
Insulin is perhaps the most important hormonal marker for overall health and it plays a crucial role in weight management. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas in response to carbohydrate and sugar consumption. The main function of insulin is to escort sugar from the bloodstream into the cells of the body in order to provide energy to the cells and prevent extended periods of high blood sugar in the arteries. It is produced in high quantities during and after meals that are high in carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates or sugar.
We learned a few weeks ago that the most important dietary concept to understand is that excess sugar makes us fat. Excess refined carbohydrates keeps insulin levels high, which leads to more and more sugar getting into the cells. The higher the amount of sugar that gets into the cells the higher the conversion of sugar to fat.
Not only do high levels of insulin lead to the increase in fat deposition in cells but insulin also prevents the breakdown of fat for energy. Insulin is a hormone designed to build not break down. When insulin is high the body is in a storage mode and is much less likely to burn fat for energy.
Type II diabetes is one of the most common and significant chronic diseases in North America. For the most part, it starts with excess refined carbohydrate consumption and increased insulin production. Over time, the cells of the body become resistant to insulin and the blood sugar remains high, which creates many problems in the body including weight gain, cardiovascular disease, peripheral neuropathy, impaired vision, and retinopathy to name a few.
Human Growth Hormone
Human growth hormone has received a lot of attention in the last 10 years in the anti-aging and athletics communities. HGH is an anabolic hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. Its major functions are to rebuild and repair. HGH strengthens bone, increases muscle mass, promotes the burning of fat, and enhances the immune system. You can see why HGH supplementation has peaked the interest of many athletes and anti-aging researchers. However, HGH supplementation is not currently legal in Canada.
What we do know is that there are things we can do to increase our own native HGH production. First of all, weight bearing exercise is an excellent way to stimulate HGH production. Weight bearing exercise creates micro tears on the targeted muscles and stimulates the pituitary to produce an increased amount of HGH to repair that damage. This creates increased lean muscle mass, which increases the body’s overall metabolic rate. Secondly, sleep patterns greatly affect HGH production. Getting to bed before 11pm (optimally before 10pm) and sleeping through the night until the next morning promotes optimal HGH production. HGH is produced largely during sleep and the longer and deeper we sleep the better our production is likely to be. Thirdly, avoid eating food within two hours of going to sleep. When we eat just prior to bedtime we delay our release of HGH. Normally, HGH begins to be released about two hours after going to bed and winds down a few hours before waking as we exit deep sleep. When we eat before bed we further delay the release of HGH and significantly narrow the window of time where it is produced.
Cortisol is the major stress hormone that has gained attention in recent years. It is produced in the adrenal glands in response to stress, especially chronic stress. Cortisol production should be highest in the morning upon rising and then gradually decline through the day. It should be lowest during sleep and this is one of the biochemical reasons we get tired and fall asleep. However, for those who have less than optimal stress coping mechanisms cortisol levels will go up during stressful periods of the day. This could be at a morning meeting, on the way home from work, at the end of the night when we are adding up the bills, or any other time.
Simply put, high cortisol levels will likely lead to weight gain and poor body composition for most people. Cortisol directly causes the deposition of fat in the abdomen and upper neck, breaks down bone and muscle mass, and inhibits the activation of thyroid hormone. These three factors make it extremely difficult to lose weight or improve body composition in the face of stress.
The key is to develop strategies to prevent, manage, and cope with stress better. Over time this will encourage the adrenal gland to secrete cortisol in a healthier manner. Remember, cortisol should be highest upon rising and then gradually decline as the day and night go on. It may also be important to support the adrenal glands, especially for people who have had chronic stress for a number of years. There are many Naturopathic treatments from oral supplementation to intravenous vitamin, mineral, and homeopathic infusions that are very successful at supporting and repairing the adrenal glands.
In next week’s column we will investigate many of the most common weight loss programs that most of us have tried before in the past. We will examine why most weight loss programs don’t work and what we need to do to increase your chances of success.