For the past few weeks, we've covered topics based around the effects of extreme dieting and the havoc it can wreak upon many aspects of our wellbeing. Our last post talked about Nutritional Deficiencies caused by extreme dieting and calorie restriction.
In continuing to discuss the deficiencies and imbalances caused by dieting, this week we're taking a look at hormone production. People turn towards dieting in order to enhance their self-image, essentially to lose weight. What's the point in losing weight if doing so causes such a hormonal imbalance that you struggle to enjoy your newfound 'health'? Many dieters seem so preoccupied with their external self that they fail to consider the ramifications of their malnutrition on their internal systems; and the consequences can be disastrous.
In this final part of the series, we discuss the endocrine system, the hormones that each gland secretes, and what hormones are responsible for in the body. We'll also cover how hormone imbalances caused by dieting can lead to mental and physical implications, and which hormones are most frequently affected.
Our bodies have an endocrine system, made up of glands that release hormones. Hormones are molecules that are released automatically, sending chemicals into the bloodstream that enable bodily tissues and organs to function properly.
Hormones are responsible for regulating most processes in the body, from our mood to how well the respiratory system works. They flow from the endocrine glands to the specific receptors designed to receive each hormone. They send signals to these receptors, operating as catalysts that initiate responses in particular areas of the body.
The body is generally able to regulate hormones well, sensing when they should be released or inhibited. Hormones are vital to our wellbeing, as self-adjusting mechanisms that automatically respond to stimuli. Their function is to maintain balance, keeping our bodies in a carefully co-ordinated state of equilibrium.
Sometimes, hormones fail to adequately respond to feedback. This can have a significant impact on the body, as a minor change in hormone function can disrupt entire organs and their processes.
Click through the sections below for an in-depth description of what each of our hormones do, and where they are released from in the endocrine system. We'll then move on to discuss why people might experience hormone problems, and the symptoms to look out for when hormones become unstable.
Located on the under-surface of the brain, directly above the brain stem.
> Growth Hormone Releasing Hormone (GHRH)
> Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GRH)
> Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH)
> Thyrotropic Releasing Hormone (TRT)
The hypothalamus is responsible for:
In charge of other endocrine glands and their secretions. Situated at the base of the brain, and attached to the hypothalamus.
> Growth Hormone (GH)
> Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH)
> Steroid Hormones, Cortisol
> Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
> Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
> Antidiuretic Hormone Vasopressin (ADH)
> Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone
> Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
What does the pituitary gland control?
A series of four small glands at the base of the neck, behind the thyroid.
> Parathyroid hormone (PTH)
What do the parathyroid glands do?
The pancreas is long gland located behind the stomach, situated under the liver and near the gallbladder.
> Pancreatic Polypeptide
What does the pancreas do?
Situated in the front of the neck.
> Thyroid hormones:
What does the thyroid control?
There are 2 adrenal glands, each located on top of the kidneys.
> Adrenal androgens (male sex hormones):
> Andrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH)
What do the adrenal glands do?
Located in the epithalamus, where the two sections of the brain join in the middle.
The pineal gland is responsible for:
Female reproductive organs in the uterus (womb).
What do the ovaries do?
* The function of the ovaries is maintained by the gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GRH) from the hypothalamus. GRH eventually leads to the secretion of luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary glands. It is the release of these hormones, combined with oestrogen and progesterone, that regulates the menstrual cycle.
Male reproductive organs.
> Inhibin B
> Anti Müllerian Hormone
> Insulin Like Factor 3
The testes are responsible for:
Some of the most frequently imbalanced hormones are the sex hormones, secreted and regulated within the sexual organs and the adrenal glands. These organs, as mentioned above, are the ovaries in women, and the testes in men. Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone cooperate in maintaining key functions relating to our emotions, reproductive abilities and energy levels.
As we age, these hormones diminish because of stress and dietary issues, as well as the development of genetic problems and thyroid issues. The most common age for sex hormone imbalances to develop is around age 50.
Here are what sex hormones do, and some of the issues that can be caused by imbalances.
Oestrogen is present and necessary in both men and women.
Progesterone is a female sex hormone that is produced in the ovaries, crucial to female fertility. Males naturally create a tiny amount of progesterone.
The male hormone, testosterone is required for the healthy development and maintenance of libido in men and women. Muscle and bone health is also enhanced by testosterone.
Hormonal imbalances can occur for a number of reasons. Due to the complexity of such systems, it can often be difficult to pinpoint exactly why your body is functioning differently. Here, we'll look at the causes and symptoms of hormone imbalances.
The stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, prompt the physical and physiological effects we associate with the fight or flight response.These hormones cause a range of symptoms, including; increased heart rate, sweating, rapid breathing, heightened blood pressure and an upset digestive system.
While medications may be essential in treating our ailments and illnesses, they can also interfere with our hormone balance.
The most common issues that disrupt the balance between hormones are related to the thyroid. It's the thyroid that regulates: heart rate, heat production, brain functioning and development, metabolism, calorie expenditure and digestive functions, amongst other processes. Thyroid conditions tend to develop slowly, so it may take a while before you begin to notice symptoms.
Health conditions, other than thyroid issues, can also disrupt hormonal activity.
It is natural for hormone balances to shift as we age, as our receptors become de-sensitised over time. Some hormone levels decrease as we grow older, some remain the same and some increase.
Specific to women, hormonal imbalances are often experienced due to matters relating to reproduction. A few of these hormone altering phases occur due to natural changes in the body, while others may suggest that there are underlying issues with hormonal functions. If the woman gains a lot of weight after one of her reproductive milestones, this may signify the presence of a thyroid problem.
Women can experience thyroid problems during the hormonal milestones listed above - the phases related to the female reproductive system. The thyroid problems in these cases are normally caused by genetics.
Even a tiny imbalance in the production of hormones can lead to a major disturbance to the body and how it functions.
In part III of the Psychology of Dieting series, we referred to a study examining the effects of starvation on the body. Even in the 50s, this study reported that calorie restriction led to significant disturbances concerning the physical and mental health of participants. When people are dieting, they're limiting calorie consumption in the hopes it will help them lose weight fast. More recent studies have uncovered that dieting is typically a recipe for failure when the end goal is weight loss.
Alongside the key aforementioned hormones described above, there are a number of hormones and amino acid peptides that are directly related to the consumption of food and how our bodies react. We'll discuss a couple of them below, and their links to food intake and energy storage and distribution.
Cholecystokinin (CCK) is a hormone made in the gallbladder, and is recognised as the hormone that makes us feel full when we eat. CCK is produced when the stomach stretches as we eat food. It supports the digestive system by breaking down macros (carbohydrates, proteins and fats), by creating bile and releasing enzymes. Since CCK is a short-acting hormone, it is recommended that we eat smaller meals, but more frequently This helps uplift and maintain CCK functioning so we feel full for long enough before our next meal.
Neuropeptide Y (NpY) is responsible for the growth of fat tissue. Created in the hypothalamus and other specific locations in the endocrine system, it's an amino acid that controls our food intake and regulates how energy from food is stored in the body. NpY is said to have a role in regulating moods such as anxiety and helping to control stress, also reducing blood pressure. Increased neuropeptide Y has been linked to lack of control over appetite.
Studies have looked into NpY and its relation to obesity, due to its role in the growth of fat cells. Researchers found enhanced levels of the hormone in rats who then go on to experience genetic obesity. When injected into rats, the rats also exhibited increased food intake behaviours.
Leptin is a hormone created by fat in the body. It helps to regulate a few functions related to eating, energy consumption and body composition. It works to reduce appetite by blocking NpY, and so those with diminished levels of leptin can experience more hunger.
The more body fat an individual has, the higher their leptin concentration is. Studies show that calorie limitation through dieting can reduce the amount of leptin, as weight is lost and the concentrations of leptin reduce in proportion to the amount of body fat remaining. Suggestions have been made that decreased sensitivities to leptin could be responsible for obesity. Since leptin reduces feelings of hunger, this theory has potential.
Leptin plays another undesirable role in heightening the risk of inflammation. Ongoing inflammatory responses in the body lead to further health issues. These include the development of insensitivities to insulin, which can potentially lead to type 2 diabetes.
The ultimate point here is easy to distinguish. The spotlight must shift from dieting for 'weight loss,' and focus on healthy eating attitudes that lead to positive results instead. You can achieve the body composition you want - without the unhealthy side effects of extreme dieting, nutritional deficiency and hormone imbalance.
At The Remedy Kitchen, we follow an intuitive way of eating. That is, when the body needs something, we believe it tells us exactly that. Backing up our instincts with nutritional science, our curated meal prep plans and recipes are infused with ingredients that enhance your health.
If you're looking for pre-planned meals designed to keep your hormones entirely balanced, visit our online meal prep shop. Our new Tailored to You collection lets you choose the dishes you love, from a selection of Remedy's most loved recipes. Order them straight to your door, or for local collection from our Manchester city centre restaurant. We're making healthy eating easy.