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The Impact of Obesity on Hormone Production and Sexual Health

Mar 06 2020

The Impact of Obesity on Hormone Production and Sexual Health

Do Hormones Play a Role in Weight Gain? What is the Impact of Obesity on Hormone Production?

 Society has veered from the past towards a reality of instant-gratification and over-consumption within modern times. From the abundance of fast-food restaurants, courier services that transport fast-food to the comforts of our homes, ever-increasing portion sizes, and the normalization of sedentary activities like watching tv or surfing the web, it becomes clearer how our society, and the world at large, have begun to normalize the ever-mounting crisis of obesity. 

 It’s a matter of fact that our waistlines have grown disproportionately large compared to past generations. Issues are only made worse by those who wish to normalize obesity under the guise of body-positivity regardless of the simple fact that a surplus BMI is related to several health issues. BMI, or body mass index, describes the proportional distribution of weight in relation to height. For an average person, a healthy BMI range is 20.0 to 24.9. As we enter into 25 to 29.9 BMI, the classification changes to overweight. To be classified as obese, one must fall between the range of 30 to 39.9; anything past this cusp enters into morbid obesity.

 There can be many elements at play that result towards becoming obese: environmental factors such as how portion sizes have grown, or that there’s an abundance of pre-packaged food we have access to, or just having a sedentary lifestyle in conjunction to over-consumption. Genetic factors, albeit less of a reason for the growing waistlines our society faces, is another consideration to take. For example, having hormonal imbalances can facilitate weight gain. Inversely, obesity can have impacts on hormonal levels, as well.

 Hormones and Obesity

Our endocrine system is an expansive network of glands throughout our body that both produce and secrete chemicals important in regulating our cells and organs. Hormones are responsible for regulating the body’s growth, metabolism, and sexual development/function. As our BMI increases, excessive fat levels begin to influence the production and distribution of hormones. The essential hormones that are widely known to be affected by obesity are the following: leptin, insulin, growth, and sex hormones.

  • Leptin is a hormone that regulates our body’s appetite; it tells us how full or how hungry we are. Fat cells within the body produce leptin and secrete it throughout our bloodstream, where it arrives at a specific portion of our brain responsible for signaling hunger or the lack thereof. Leptin also influences how body fat is stored.
    • In the case of obese people, since leptin is derived from our fat cells, they produce a higher level of leptin. Despite having a larger quantity of appetite-suppressing hormone being circulated, obese people become increasingly insensitive to the effects of leptin. Consequently, they’re able to eat more and more food while the brain tells them that they aren’t full yet.
  • Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that’s responsible for regulating carbohydrates and metabolizing fat. Insulin stimulates the uptake of sugars in our muscles and tissues that help provide the body with energy to function. Those dealing with obesity face weaker insulin signals and diminished glucose uptake resulting in type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
  • The sex hormone estrogen plays a crucial role in our body’s fat distribution. As we age, we produce varying levels of the different types of estrogen and our fat distribution changes. With varying levels of estrogen, fat begins to predominate around the abdomen, which is a risk factor for many concerning diseases like cardiac arrest or breast cancer. Obese people, with more significant stores of fat, yield altered levels of estrogen, resulting in a greater concentration of fat around the abdomen.
  • Growth hormones that help us grow as well as metabolize energy are found in lower percentages amongst obese people. Childhood obesity is especially concerning here as it has lasting effects on physical and sexual maturation. 

 On top of the physiological effects obesity has on our body, sexual health is also dampened. Mentioned briefly was how obesity affects sexual maturation in teens. Obesity triggers the onset of menarche (a girl’s first period) and delays puberty in boys. Furthermore, in males, testosterone levels are lowered by obesity. Testosterone, a dominant male hormone that’s responsible for a medley of effects such as muscularity, libido, and sperm production are diminished in obese men. In both men and women, obesity can cause infertility or problems with conception.

The impact of obesity on hormone production is self-evident. Obesity is a disease that robs us of our lives, energy, and, ultimately, our happiness. Through medically supervised dieting (HCG) and exercise, we can stave off the ill-effects of obesity. There’s no time like now to make a change.