How the Hormone Ghrelin Affects Weight Gain
It’s not a big secret that I believe one of the best paths toward quick and sustained weight loss has to do with modifying your hormones so they are optimized for maintaining lean body mass.
Dr. Lantelme founded Robinhood Integrative Health, believing that addressing hormonal imbalances was one of the best ways to affect a person’s health.
And when I came into the practice just a few short months later, I was preaching the same thing (which is why we’re such a good team).
Over the years we’ve come up with all kinds of protocols and supplements to help our patients (and our readers) attain peak hormone levels.
And today, I’m going to talk about how you can create a better balance of one of the main “hunger hormones” for better weight control.
How Ghrelin Affects Your Waist Line
The funny thing about hormones is that while there aren’t hundreds upon thousands of hormones, the general population only really knows about a handful of hormones.
I suppose it’s not that funny, but it does strike me as somewhat odd that some of the more important hormones for weight management are not that well known. And I only say that because being overweight is probably one of the leading causes of chronic disease, so you’d think the medical establishment would talk about it.
But, based on the articles I just wrote (Article 1, Article 2), you can figure out why they don’t…
There are a few hormones that affect how much weight you gain or shed.
One of the primary hormones that affect weight gain is the one that controls how hungry you are.
It’s called ghrelin (pronounced Grell-In).
Ghrelin’s role as a hormone has to do with how it regulates your appetite.
In essence, it’s the “hunger hormone” and it’s the hormone that sends signals to your body about eating.
When ghrelin is always present and constantly sending signals to you to eat it can play havoc on food intake, which correspondingly can alter your body weight for the worse.
Your body produces ghrelin mainly in your stomach and somewhat in the small intestines and it is released as your stomach and intestines empty which is a biological signal for more food.
But ghrelin doesn’t act on appetite on its own. Instead, it sends signals to the pituitary gland in your brain which then causes your body to release growth hormone which has the effect of causing your appetite to increase.
Now, as you may know, I’m fond of helping regulate another hunger hormone called leptin (See my article This Hormone Can Keep You Fat), and it just so happens that ghrelin and leptin work together on hunger.
“Ghrelin and leptin work together to facilitate feeding, energy balance and weight management. Leptin is a hormone that is made by fat cells that decreases your appetite. It essentially does the opposite of ghrelin, which increases appetite.
Both hormones play a role in body weight maintenance. Within the brain the same area that holds the receptors for ghrelin (called the ghrelin/growth hormone secretagogue receptors, or GHS-Rs) also holds the receptors for leptin.
Because the body produces leptin based on body fat percentage, weight gain causes your blood leptin levels to increase. The opposite is also true: weight loss will result in decreased levels of leptin (and often more hunger). Unfortunately, overweight and obese people are generally believed to be “leptin-resistant,” which contributes to further weight gain and difficulty losing excess weight because they require more food to feel “full” or satiated. However, there is still a lot to learn about how leptin-resistence and increased ghrelin may contribute to obesity.”
So the goal here is to make sure that you never get to a place where you have too much ghrelin circulating so that you don’t overeat.
How Ghrelin Can Make You Fatter + How to Control Ghrelin Levels
While ghrelin is directly responsible for increasing appetite it also affects fat storage. Which can make problems with leptin production and weight management.
Studies have shown that ghrelin promotes the storage of fat in the abdominal region.
The reason this matters for people who are concerned about weight loss is studies have shown excess abdominal fat is associated with an increased risk of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Abdominal fat is generally the last, stubborn bit of fat to remain on the body and is also a harbinger of disease to come.
Another thing ghrelin can do when excreted in excess is stall fat burning.
If your ghrelin levels are too high, your body is less likely to burn fat for energy. Instead, it will store more fat, leading to weight gain.
Which leads to the next part of the conversation.
How you can help to control ghrelin levels so you lose weight and keep it off.
Now, there’s no doubt that controlling ghrelin levels can be challenging, especially in the environment we live in here in the U.S. where everything tastes great and causes your insulin levels to soar and then plunge which can lead to insulin resistance and future weight gain.
But, there are ways to combat this vicious cycle.
And here they are.
1 – Prioritize Healthy Fats And Protein In Your Diet:
As I’ve written about countless times now, one of the keys to keeping insulin levels in check and keeping your relationship with food healthy is to eat fewer carbs and more fat and protein.
When it comes to ghrelin levels, the more protein the better.
“A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that focused on the effects of a high-protein meals on postprandial ghrelin response states that “The most satiating macronutrient appears to be dietary protein.” When study participants ate a high-protein breakfast, they experienced decreased postprandial ghrelin concentrations more strongly over time compared to when they ate a higher-carbohydrate breakfast.
The researchers found evidence that the high-protein meals had an effect on glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptides, which mediated the ghrelin response. In addition, the high-protein meals were more effective at slowing gastric emptying, which prolongs feelings of fullness. Other studies point to similar findings about how protein may contribute to weight loss: protein tends to ward off hunger, prevent loss of muscle mass during dieting, increases secretion of satiety hormones, increases the thermic effect of food digestion and improves glucose homeostasis.
The evidence is clear, if you stack your diet in favor of fat and protein and lower carb intake elevated levels of ghrelin won’t cause you to overreact as they won’t be a problem.
By eating pasture-raised/organic animal products and low-sugar vegetables and fruits (and refusing to eat highly processed foods) you’ll be able to suppress excessive ghrelin production.
2 – Increase Muscle Mass:
The more muscle you have the less ghrelin you emit.
This makes sense as muscle tends to use blood sugar for work and doesn’t circulate in the bloodstream as much as when lean muscle mass ratios are lower.
This is part of the reason that the more you focus on muscle building the better tone and shape your body takes on. It’s not so much that muscle replaces fat, it’s that musclebound individuals simply aren’t as hungry thanks to elevated ghrelin levels.
3 – Get Better Sleep:
I love that one of the easiest ways to impact your waistline is one of the simplest (and the best feeling)!
The fact is poor sleep tends to leave your body in a state of increased hunger. If you’ve ever slept poorly and then woken up and discovered you’re making poor decisions with food this is most likely the reason behind that.
Anything Else to Help Modulate Ghrelin Levels?
Many of you are probably wondering if there are any things you can take (as opposed to doing) for ghrelin management.
The answer is none that are healthy.
The only thing that comes to mind for appetite suppression that I’d recommend, is coffee or tea. Caffeine can act as a natural appetite suppressant and most people can safely rely on it early in the day to keep their hunger pangs under control.
Other than that there’s not much I’d recommend (other than perhaps Berberine or Leptin Syn3rgy which can help normalize blood sugar levels).