Food, Hormones, Metabolism, and Weight: What’s the Link?

Food, Hormones, Metabolism, and Weight: What's the Link?

The hormonal system reacts in different ways to the intake of certain nutrients and this ends up influencing weight control. What to eat to regulate metabolism?

Food, Hormones, Metabolism, and Weight: What's the Link?

There are dozens of hormones involved in metabolism that are essential for weight control.

Currently it is known that weight does not depend solely on the amount of calories ingested and expendedbut on how the body reacts globally, and especially the hormonal system, to the intake of certain nutrients.


For example, insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, is essential to control the rate of glucose in the blood and to direct this fuel into the cells.

It is well known that if too many foods rich in rapidly absorbed carbohydrates (sugar, white flour …) are consumed, undesirable peaks in insulin production occur and insulin resistance may develop over time (the hormone loses its effectiveness) and diabetes . In addition, insulin helps excess sugar to quickly transform into body fat.

To control the rate of glucose in the blood and the secretion of insulin, it is advisable to eat foods rich in fiber (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes), take five daily intakes and moderate the portions.

Insulin works in a complementary way with another lesser-known hormone, glucagon, whose mission is to raise blood glucose levels when necessary, mobilizing glycogen stores found in the liver. Protein foods (legumes, nuts, seeds …) favor glucagon synthesis.

By looking at the action of hormones, you understand why nutritionists are increasingly taking them into account when developing new weight management strategies.


Biochemist Barry Sears is famous for designing the so-called “zone diet” , which aims to keep insulin and glucagon in balance in order to prevent obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, among other high-incidence diseases.

Sears recommends taking an intake every 3 or 4 hours, always with the same proportions of calories from carbohydrates (40%), proteins (30%) and fats (30%).

However, most nutritionists believe that this diet, while it may be effective for weight loss in the short term, provides too much protein and too little carbohydrates. Also, it is not proven that it actually regulates hormone levels; and is that, apart from insulin and glucagon, there are many other agents that play a role in metabolism.

Researchers – spurred on by pharmaceutical industries seeking the miracle obesity pill – are dealing with a veritable gibberish of interlinked hormonal signals related to the immune and nervous systems. It is to be hoped that in time this language will be understood, still undeciphered.


In any case, when we feel pushed into the kitchen or the pantry, we can be sure that a hormone is involved. Hunger is the consequence of the joint work of hormones and neurons.

In a structure of the brain called the hypothalamus, messages from the body are translated into the language of consciousness, involving emotions that determine behaviorWhen the level of sugar in the blood drops or the stomach is empty, the person feels hungry or perhaps imagines his favorite dish.

At the heart of the brain’s hunger and satiety decisions are two types of neurons that control food intake:

  • Accelerator neurons produce neuropeptide Y (NPY), which stimulates ingestion.
  • The second type acts as a brake: they generate melanocortins, which inhibit it.

This is one of the mechanisms behind the failure of common weight loss diets: when intake is reduced, NPY secretion is activated and melanocortins are blocked. That is to say: the more you try to lose weight, the more you stimulate the intake.

And there are still more hormones that conspire against diets:


The Leptin (from the Greek Leptos, thin) is secreted by fat cells bound to the brain. When the amount of stored fat increases, leptin is released into the bloodstream, which informs the brain that it has enough food and should suppress appetite and increase energy expenditure (metabolism speed and body temperature rise).

Obese people have been found to be resistant to leptin and to feel hungry when levels rise. It is also known that low-calorie diets cause a sharp drop in leptin concentrations, thus predisposing to regain lost weight.

On the other hand, researchers have found a relationship between leptin levels, obesity, and zinc deficiency. Therefore, it may be interesting to ensure the intake of this mineral, which is also essential for the functioning of the immune system and sexuality. Zinc is found in eggs, whole grains, certain seeds, and legumes.


The ghrelin hormone, secreted by the stomach and to a lesser extent at the beginning of the duodenum and other organs, constitutes another type of alert signal. Its levels rise abruptly when the stomach is empty and signal to the brain that it is time to generate a sensation of hunger and secrete gastric juices.

When the stomach is full, the levels drop, but the degree of the drop varies depending on what has been eaten: carbohydrates and proteins achieve more effective suppression than fats. This helps to understand why a high-fat diet favors being overweight, regardless of whether it contributes more calories.

Appetite is also influenced by personal preferences, which are recorded in the body through associations between aromas, memories, emotions, neurotransmitters and hormones.

Dopamine, a substance involved in pleasurable sensations and drug addiction, is triggered the first time a person tries a food they like. Then, each time the sight or smell detects it again, the discharge occurs in advance.

When biochemistry is on the move, reason has a hard time asserting itself. That is why it is easy to choose inconvenient foods.


The diet that is capable of controlling the production of all hormones is far from being invented, but most experts agree on the need to limit the intake of foods with a high glycemic index (especially sweets and foods made with refined flours) and the saturated and hydrogenated fats.

The diet should provide enough beneficial fatty foods, such as virgin olive oil, flax, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. The body makes some hormones (such as testosterone, progesterone, or anti-inflammatory prostaglandins) from certain fats provided by food. That is why diets deficient in fatty acids can cause a variety of hormonal disorders.

The thyroid gland needs certain nutrients to secrete hormones that regulate basal metabolism and affect the development of physiological systems, especially the nervous. According to multiple studies, following very restrictive diets and low in nutrients decreases the synthesis of the most active thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine or T3.

People who follow very restrictive diets, instead of active T3, produce a substance that has no role as a metabolic accelerator.

One of the most frequent disorders that affect the thyroid is iodine deficiency, which can cause goiter – an enlargement of the gland – and hypothyroidism that is manifested through a slight increase in weight. In cases of hypothyroidism, it is advisable to increase the consumption of foods rich in iodine, such as sea salt or algae.

In contrast, hyperthyroidism increases metabolism and can lead to weight loss, although you can also gain weight because it increases your appetite. In this case, it is advisable to follow a balanced hypo caloric diet, adapted to the physical characteristics and activity of the patient. Foods with a high iodine content and nutritional supplements that include it should logically be avoided.

On the other hand, radish contains raffin in, which normalizes the production of thyroxin (T4) and calcitonin. This is a hormone that controls the amount of calcium that is released into the blood and affects its deposit in the bones. They can be taken from one to three red radishes in juice a day.


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