The scenario is so common that it’s become a trope. A husband and wife decide to get healthy, so they make lifestyle changes together. The man drops twenty pounds or more with ease, while the woman doesn’t lose an ounce. Why is this? The simple answer: hormones.
“For most of history, humans were tossed between states of feast and famine. Women, being the source of new people, as well as having the ability to feed infants in the form of breast milk, had to be able to capture and maintain energy so that they could carry on producing and feeding the next generation,” says Joshua Bacon, MD, Memorial Medical Group Family Medicine.
This means that when it comes to losing weight, women are not only struggling with exercise and calorie restriction, but sometimes working against genetics that haven’t quite caught up to the 21st century. Hormones that are more present in women’s bodies than men are also the ones more likely to lead to weight gain.
“Women have vastly increased circulating levels of estrogen compared to men, and estrogen leads to the accumulation of fat tissue. Moreover, having increased levels of fat tissue leads to an increased level of estrogen, thereby making it even easier to store fat,” Dr. Bacon says. “These hormones are present at different levels throughout a woman’s life, prompting different challenges at different times.”
For patients undergoing the changes of puberty, there is a surge of estrogen preparing the body to tackle the challenges associated with reproduction. In the course of human history, much of that challenge was the lack of calories. As such, when puberty hits, it can cause weight gain.
Conversely, when estrogen drops around menopause for older women, it can cause exhaustion and lack of energy which leads to weight gain. Estrogen is also a hormone that often keeps other illnesses at bay.
“Patients tend to develop acute and chronic illnesses more frequently than they did when they were younger, and this may lead to a state of stress,” Dr. Bacon says. “States of stress result in inc
reases in endogenous steroids (stress hormones) which often can lead to weight gains.”
For some women, however, weight gain can be attributed to insulin resistance. Most people think of insulin as a blood sugar hormone, but in the big perspective, it is a growth hormone. Having persistent, excessive amounts of this growth hormone will often lead to weight gain. Insulin resistance is also a symptom in polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormonal imbalance that can lead to fertility issues (among many other symptoms) in women of childbearing age. It is important for women to pay attention to their bodies for any hormonal changes that could indicate an imbalance.
“The most common things I hear from patients that suggest I need to investigate their hormones are: a rapid weight gain, new hair growth or loss, facial hair, new onset acne, skin changes, changes in voice, changes in mood, changes in menstrual cycle,” Dr. Bacon says. “If an imbalance is found, it is something that can be treated with both medical and nonmedical interventions.”
Often, though, medication is not the cure-all. These medications help a patient with the hormonal derangements that can lead to weight gain, but losing the weight that a patient carries already will require education and diligence on what to do to decrease their levels of circulating insulin and increase their levels of glucagon.
Dr. Bacon is accepting new patients at Memorial Medical Group on Nelson Rd. Call 337-480-7999.