Why Your Best Diet Is Not Working: Hormones and Your Metabolism
Dec 28, 2012 01:01AM
By Dawn Cutillo Hiestand
Many women over the age of 40 experience slow or no weight loss, even with a balanced, low-calorie diet and daily exercise. They sometimes feel they have nowhere to turn, especially when a diet that always seemed to work before is no longer effective. Often, the underlying cause of their slowed metabolism is a simple hormonal imbalance that needs to be corrected for efficient weight loss and long-term weight management.
Chronic stress triggers our fight-or-flight response and can increase production of the stress hormone cortisol, which creates the storage of belly fat. Chronically high levels of cortisol are directly linked to a decrease in the production of progesterone, a sex hormone that is needed to burn fat, speed the metabolism and aid the thyroid gland. Optimal levels of progesterone also improve sleep, soothe mood fluctuations and reduce food cravings.
In addition, low progesterone levels throw off the hormone’s ratio to estrogen, leading to fat storage that makes weight loss nearly impossible. This imbalance is termed “estrogen dominance” by John Lee, M.D., in his book, Dr. John Lee’s Hormone Balance Made Simple: The Essential How-to Guide to Symptoms, Dosage, Timing, and More, co-authored by Virginia Hopkins. The condition is linked to irritability, mood swings, insomnia, fluid retention, insulin resistance and decreased thyroid function, all of which drastically affect a woman’s diet compliance and motivation to make healthy choices.
Restoring the estrogen/progesterone balance and lowering cortisol levels can be achieved easily in two simple steps. First, take a 20-minute pause during the day. This helps decrease stress and cortisol output by offsetting the body’s fight-or-flight response. Methods to lower stress include yoga, Tai chi, massage, meditation and deep breathing. According to studies of brainwave patterns done at Harvard Mind/Body Medical Institute, deep relaxation equivalent to that achieved during a two-hour nap can be attained in only 20 minutes by listening to a sound-wave therapy CD, which also lowers cortisol levels and translates to improvements in mood, sleep, metabolism and hormone balance. This new sound-wave technology is readily available online; one good website is Brainsync.com.
Second, aim to increase the fat-burning hormone progesterone naturally and safely, in order to restore a healthy ratio with the fat-storing hormone, estrogen. Natural progesterone is not to be confused with the synthetic progesterone, progestin, contained in birth control pills, or with synthetic hormone replacement therapies, such as Prempro, which can cause fluid retention, weight gain and other health problems. Increasing the body’s level of natural progesterone, when low, can rebalance a woman’s hormone ratio enough to help her lose weight.
In his book, Lee says that long-term use of natural progesterone is safe and notes that PMS or menopausal symptoms indicate low levels of the hormone. Women should opt for non-prescription progesterone in a cream form (applied to skin) and ensure that it is “trans-dermal”. Progesterone delivered via a trans-dermal cream enters the bloodstream directly, bypassing the liver, and any excess is excreted naturally within 24 hours. This eliminates concerns about excess hormone accumulation in the body’s fatty tissues, which can occur if cheaper, alcohol-based creams are used. Although trans-dermal progesterone cream is safe and can be purchased without a prescription, qualified healthcare practitioners can offer guidance about using the correct amount of cream at the right time during a woman’s cycle.
With proper hormone balance, mood, motivation and energy often improve; appetite and cravings are reduced; excess fluid is released; and the metabolism returns to normal. At that point, results can be seen in a weight management program. Another positive side effect of healthy hormone balance is diminished PMS and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats—a big relief to many women.
Dawn Cutillo Hiestand, author of The Hormone “Shift”, specializes in helping women lose weight and balance their hormones at The Rejuvenation Center, in Lititz. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in health and has 23 years of experience in the health field, with a 15-year focus on hormone work. Her preliminary breast cancer study was published in the Sept. 2012 issue of the Original Internist. For more information, visit BecomingHMC.com.