Person standing on bathroom scale while wondering about the connection between hormones and weight loss

The Connection Between Hormones and Weight Loss

Medically reviewed on January 3, 2024 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

Hormones are the body’s traffic lights. They create signals that control a variety of biological processes, from cognition and mood, to growth and development.

When it comes to hormones and weight loss, several chemical signals help to control your metabolism, appetite, and body fat distribution. Such hormones include leptin, insulin, oestrogens, androgens, and human growth hormone (HGH), all of which are explored below.[1]

Leptin and Weight Management

Leptin is a protein hormone, a type of hormone that’s typically produced by the endocrine glands. However, leptin differs from other protein hormones in that adipocytes (a fancy name for cells responsible for fat storage) produce the hormone, alongside other tissues and organs, in smaller amounts, such as the [2]:

  • Mammary gland
  • Ovary
  • Skeletal muscle
  • Stomach
  • Pituitary gland

Insulin may also trigger the secretion of leptin.[2]

All that said, leptin is produced in correlation with the amount of adipose tissue (fat) in the body. As such, it serves as a significant indicator of energy storage. Further, leptin production is largely dictated by the circadian rhythm: the highest levels are observed during the night, while leptin levels decrease during daylight hours.[2]

Although adipose tissue produces leptin, the hormone largely impacts the brainstem and hypothalamus, an area of the brain that can also produce hormones that help to maintain homeostasis.[3]

Generally speaking, women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) show higher levels of leptin compared to men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB), regardless of how much body fat they have.[2]

In the long term, leptin functions to balance food intake with energy expenditure. More specifically, it helps to regulate or inhibit hunger and appetite to ensure that you don’t eat when your body isn’t in need of energy. Accordingly, leptin can help you maintain a normal or healthy weight.[3,4]

As you lose weight and your fat storage lessens, so too does the production of leptin. In turn, your body can interpret this decrease as a signal that it’s starving. As a result, you may experience extreme hunger, which can cause you to eat more food as you are losing weight.[3, 4].

Normal Leptin Levels

The amount of leptin in your body directly correlates to the amount of fat stored around your internal organs and bones. The more fat you have, the more leptin your body produces.[3]

If you believe your leptin levels are unbalanced, a healthcare provider can order a blood test to assess leptin levels.

While “normal” ranges can differ, general consensus states the following are most typical [3]:

  • AFAB adults: 0.5 - 15.2 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL)
  • AMAB adults: 0.5 - 12.5 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL)

An unusually high level of leptin, thanks to high levels of body fat (obesity), may trigger a condition called “leptin resistance”, which may cause [3]:

  • Inability to feel full or satiated
  • Increased hunger
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Rabson–Mendenhall syndrome
  • Neurodegenerative disorders
  • Depression
  • Food addiction

Conversely, when leptin levels are too low, people may experience extreme hunger, excessive insulin production, fatty liver disease, and low sex hormone levels.[3]

All that said, since leptin production is directly correlated to the amount of fat on your body, it’s generally believed that lifestyle changes may not impact leptin levels. However, some studies show that getting quality sleep may indirectly lower leptin levels.[3]

Insulin and Weight Management

Insulin is a type of essential hormone that plays a role in regulating your blood sugar levels and turning the food you eat into usable energy. [5] It’s produced within the pancreas, an organ situated behind the stomach that secretes digestive enzymes, in addition to hormones.[5]

All that said, insulin assists in glucose storage after eating a meal. More specifically, insulin helps glucose leave your bloodstream after digestion and enter cells. These cells then use the glucose for energy.[6]

If the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin, glucose will remain in the bloodstream, thus increasing your blood sugar levels. That said, several conditions can impact insulin production within the body including [6]:

  • Gestational diabetes – During pregnancy, people AFAB can develop high blood sugar levels since certain pregnancy hormones can interfere with insulin production.
  • Type 1 diabetes – Caused by an autoimmune reaction, type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin, which can cause excessive thirst, frequent urination, unexpected weight loss, excessive hunger, and fatigue.
  • Prediabetes – Insulin resistance, which occurs when your body does not respond to insulin properly, can cause elevated blood sugar levels, which can be a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
  • Type 2 diabetes – Chronically high blood sugar levels, caused by the pancreas’ inability to produce insulin, or insulin resistance, can lead to type 2 diabetes. Much like type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes may experience excessive thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, and unexplained weight loss.

Several factors may contribute to your body’s development of insulin resistance, such as [7]:

  • Genetics
  • Excess body fat
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Eating processed foods high in carbs and saturated fats
  • Hormonal disorders, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome
  • Chronic stress
  • Lack of sleep

One study found that suppressing insulin levels and regulating caloric intake may increase insulin sensitivity and weight loss in people who are obese. [8] Conversely, high insulin levels are largely correlated to weight gain, and may lead to symptoms of hormonal belly.[9]

Generally, diet can greatly impact your insulin levels. After eating a highly processed and/or high-carb meal, your body requires more insulin to make glucose usable to the body’s cells. Conversely, eating hormone balancing foods with fiber and a low glycemic index (GI) (55 GI or less) can lower blood sugar levels. These include [10]:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Fruits, like apples and berries
  • Non-starchy vegetables, such as asparagus, cauliflower, and leafy greens
  • Nuts
  • Dairy, fish, and meat

Additionally, healthy lifestyle habits like regular exercise, quality sleep, and avoiding smoking can all contribute to normal insulin and blood sugar levels (70 to 99 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)).[10]

Oestrogens and Weight Management

Oestrogens (estrogens) are a group of female sex hormones that play a vital role in puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy, as well as growth and development in people AFAB. In people AMAB, oestrogens levels are low and may impact fertility and sperm count.[11]

There are three forms of estrogen in people AFAB [12]:

  • Estrone (E1): Primary form of estrogen after menopause
  • Estradiol (E2): Primary form of estrogen during the reproductive years
  • Estriol (E3): Primary form of estrogen during pregnancy

Ovaries are the primary producers of estrogen, while the adrenal glands and fat cells also create small amounts. During puberty, estrogen helps to stimulate the production of breasts and change body composition. Estrogen also helps to regulate menstruation, thickening the uterus lining, supporting ovulation, and thinning cervical mucus to allow for the fertilization of an egg.[12]

During menopause, estrogen levels decrease, which can lead to vaginal dryness, mood changes, night sweats, and hot flashes.[12]

It’s very normal for estrogen levels to fluctuate. However, a long-term estrogen hormone imbalance may lead to weight gain around the waist and hips.[12] To maintain healthy estrogen levels, you can adopt the following practices:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Maintain low stress levels
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Eat a low-sugar, high-fiber, and high-healthy fat diet

Androgens and Weight Management

Androgens are sex hormones that are prevalent in people AMAB, although people AFAB also produce small amounts of the hormones. Testosterone is the most common androgen—it plays a role in muscle development and sexual health. During puberty, androgens also cause the voice to deepen, the growth of body hair, and the development of sperm.[13]

In people AFAB, androgens help to regulate menstruation, bone health, and body hair. They also support conception and pregnancy.[13] That said, high androgen levels in people AFAB can lead to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which causes insulin resistance and weight gain in the abdomen. High levels of androgens in people AFAB are also correlated to metabolic disorders and obesity.[14]

While there is no way to prevent increased androgen levels, eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and managing your body weight may help to reduce their impact.[14]

Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Weight Management

The pituitary gland releases HGH to support healthy growth and development in children. Once full-grown, the hormone plays a role in regulating metabolism, body composition, and blood sugar levels.[15]

If HGH levels decrease, you may experience hormonal weight gain. Alternatively, unusually high levels of HGH can cause a condition called “acromegaly,” which is characterized by the swelling of the hands, feet, and face.[15]

To maintain healthy HGH levels, move your body daily, prioritize quality sleep, and follow a well-balanced, hormone healthy diet.[15]

Support Weight Loss With Everlywell

Hormones are critical to various bodily functions, such as metabolism regulation, weight management, and fat distribution. To that end, a hormonal imbalance can greatly impact your body’s ability to maintain a healthy weight.

Fortunately, you can easily assess your hormone levels with help from Everlywell.

Our discreet, easy-to-use, at-home test kits screen for abnormal hormone levels that may be hindering you from achieving healthy weight loss. You can also schedule an online women’s health appointment with one of Everlywell’s healthcare providers to discuss your symptoms and receive a treatment plan that’s customized to what your body needs—all without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Stay informed about your health and well-being with Everylwell.

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  1. Department of Health & Human Services. Obesity and hormones. Better Health Channel. Last reviewed June 4, 2016. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  2. Ramos‐Lobo AM, Donato J. The role of leptin in health and disease. Temperature. 2017;4(3):258-291. doi:10.1080/23328940.2017.1327003. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  3. Professional CCM. Leptin & Leptin Resistance. Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed February 23, 2022. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  4. Dornbush S. Physiology, Leptin. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. Published April 10, 2023. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  5. Insulin Basics | ADA. Reviewed 2023. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  6. Professional CCM. Insulin. Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed March 7, 2022. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  7. Professional CCM. Type 2 diabetes. Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed November 8, 2023. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  8. Velasquez-Mieyer P, Cowan PA, Arheart KL, et al. Suppression of insulin secretion is associated with weight loss and altered macronutrient intake and preference in a subset of obese adults. International Journal of Obesity. 2003;27(2):219-226. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.802227. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  9. Röhling M, Martin K, Ellinger S, Schreiber MD, Martin S, Kempf K. Weight Reduction by the Low-Insulin-Method—A randomized controlled trial. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):3004.
  10. doi:10.3390/nu12103004. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  11. Professional CCM. Insulin resistance. Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed December 16, 2021. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  12. Hess RA, Bunick D, Lee K, et al. A role for oestrogens in the male reproductive system. Nature. 1997;390(6659):509-512. doi:10.1038/37352. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  13. Professional CCM. Estrogen. Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed February 8, 2022. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  14. Professional CCM. Androgens. Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed October 24, 2021. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  15. Pasquali R, Oriolo C. Obesity and androgens in women. In: Frontiers of Hormone Research. ; 2019:120-134. doi:10.1159/000494908. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.
  16. Professional CCM. Human growth hormone (HGH). Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed June 21, 2022. URL. Accessed January 1, 2024.

Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT is most fulfilled when guiding others towards making stepwise, sustainable changes that add up to big results over time. Jordan works with a wide variety of individuals, ranging in age from children to the elderly, with an assortment of concerns and clinical conditions, and has written for publications such as Innerbody. She helps individuals optimize overall health and/or manage disease states using personalized medical nutrition therapy techniques.
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