Can you balance your hunger hormones with whole foods, less stress, sleep, and exercise?
1. Insulin, the “Storage” Hormone:
Its role: Insulin is secreted by the pancreas to allow your cells to take in glucose (blood sugar) for energy or storage. It prevents fat cells from being broken down.
When things go wrong: It contributes to chronically elevated insulin, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and increased hunger and cravings.
What to do about it: Reduce carbs to reduce chronic or excess insulin secretion. Reduce fructose, which is known to increase insulin levels and is linked to insulin resistance. Exercise to burn glycogen stores and increased insulin activity in skeletal muscles.
2. Leptin, the “Satiety” Hormone:
Its role: Produced by fat cells, this hormone notifies the hypothalamus (brain) that there is enough fat in storage and prevents overeating.
When things go wrong: You wind up with leptin resistance, which happens when impaired signaling doesn’t trigger the brain to calm hunger hormones. Malfunction is linked to obesity, chronically elevated insulin, and inflammation.
What to do about it: Avoid inflammatory foods, like seed oils, and focus on omega-3 fatty acids. Make sure you’re getting good sleep, as sleep deprivation is linked to drops in leptin levels. Exercise increases leptin sensitivity.
3. Ghrelin, the “Hunger” Hormone:
Its role: Ghrelin is released when the stomach is empty and stops when the stomach is stretched. Ghrelin is highest before eating and lowest an hour after eating.
When things go wrong: Studies in obese patients show circulating ghrelin doesn’t decrease, and for that reason the brain doesn’t receive the signal to stop eating.
What to do about it: Avoid white carbohydrates, sugar, and especially sugary drinks that increase hunger without stretching the stomach lining. Eat protein at every meal, especially breakfast, to promote satiety. Eat a lot of fiber, as it has the mass to physically stretch the stomach lining.
4. Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 (GLP-1), the “Full” Hormone:
Its role: GLP-1 is produced and released when food enters the intestines to tell our brain we are full.
When things go wrong: Chronic inflammation reduces GLP-1 production, which negatively affects satiety signaling (making you always feel hungry).
What to do about it: Avoid inflammatory food, take probiotics, eat meals high in protein, which increases GLP-1 production. Meals high in leafy green vegetables also increase GLP-1 levels. Eat a diet of Anti-inflammatory Fab 4 Foods (there’s a full list in my book!).
5. Cholecystokinin (CCK), the “Satiety” Hormone:
Its role: CCK is produced by cells in the gastrointestinal tract and nervous system. CCK is released by the duodenum and stimulates gallbladder contraction and pancreatic and gastric acid secretion; it slows gastric emptying and suppresses energy intake.
When things go wrong: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can cause an overproduction of CCK, making you feel deprived of energy.
What to do about it: Initial studies suggest the direct interaction of CCK and dietary protein contributes to satiety response. Fat triggers release of CCK, and fiber can double CCK production.
6. Peptide YY (PYY), the “Control” Hormone:
Its role: PYY is the control hormone in the gastrointestinal tract that reduces appetite.
When things go wrong: Insulin resistance and chronically elevated blood sugar impairs production of PYY.
What to do about it: Balanced blood sugar increases PYY response and production. Protein-based meals increase PYY concentrations while fiber also increases PYY production.
7. Neuropeptide Y (NYP), the “Stimulate” Hormone:
Its role: NYP is a hormone produced in the brain and nervous system that “stimulates” appetite for carbohydrates.
When things go wrong: Stress induces the production of NYP that leads to appetite stimulation and overeating.
What to do about it: Fasting and food deprivation can stimulate this hormone. Eat complete meals regularly, and fast intermittently with caution. Lack of protein also increases the release of NPY.
8. Cortisol, the “Stress” Hormone:
Its role: Cortisol is the “stress” hormone produced by the adrenals when the body senses stress.
When things go wrong: Chronically elevated levels of cortisol can lead to overeating and weight gain. High levels of cortisol are linked to belly fat in women.
What to do about it: Manage stress levels through meditation, movement, and good sleep. Talk to loved ones and ask for help when needed. Eat three balanced meals daily of protein, fat, fiber, and greens.