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The Endocrine System and Obesity

Some people feel like they are fated to stay fat. For these individuals, no amount of exercising, eating right, or counting calories helps them lose the weight. The truth is that, for some people, even if they firmly keep to a regimen of proper nutritional habits and exercise, their endocrine system, the part of the body that dictates hormonal activities, may be responsible. To better explain what hormones have to do with body weight and how the endocrine system becomes a factor, keep reading.

What Hormones Cause Obesity?

Hormones send chemicals throughout the body to adjust what the body does, including burning fat. Four main categories of hormones can influence appetite: metabolism, and body fat within the human body: leptin, insulin, sex hormones, and growth hormones. Obese people tend to have elevated hormone levels among one or more of those categories, contributing to an abnormal metabolism and accumulating a surplus of body fat.

An endocrinologist is a medical doctor specializing in all matters relevant to the endocrine system, the body’s system of glands that releases hormones into the bloodstream. While the endocrine system often partners with the nervous and immune systems to help the body cope with stress, surpluses, and deficits of hormones like leptin and insulin can lead to obesity, conversely, an obese person can experience alterations in their hormones.


Leptin comes from the body’s accumulation of fat cells, and one of the main roles of this hormone is to modify the sensation of hunger; this hormone allows your body to signal that you have eaten enough. It also influences how fat is stored within the body.

Since leptin comes from fat, it makes sense that obese people tend to have more leptin within their bodies than people of average weight. Surprisingly, an excess level of leptin tends to work like background noise in the body; the brains of obese people tend to have a resistance to leptin’s influence and do not get as complete as they should. The exact reasoning behind leptin’s inability to influence obese brains is an ongoing medical endeavor.


Insulin is a hormone from the pancreas that helps manage carbohydrates and fat metabolism. It stimulates glucose uptake from the blood within body tissues like muscles, fat, and the liver. This vital process ensures you have enough energy to function normally throughout the day and can circulate a regular glucose level throughout your body’s many systems. With obese people, insulin signals sometimes misfire, and tissues lose control of glucose levels, contributing to issues like type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Sex Hormones

The distribution of body fat is vital to developing obesity-related issues like arthritis, heart disease, and stroke. Fat that lingers around the abdomen elevates the chances of succumbing to various diseases at a far greater level than fat cells that are stored within the glutes, hips, and thighs. Estrogens, which are sex hormones produced by pre-menopausal ovaries and influence ovulation during the menstrual cycle, and androgens dictate fat distribution within the bodies of women and men.

Men and post-menopausal women do not generate high estrogen levels in their gonads (testicles in men and ovaries in women). This is because most of the estrogen in their bodies comes from body fat, though even this estrogen level is far below what pre-menopausal ovaries produce. Young male testes produce a great degree of androgens, like testosterone, but these levels also decline with age.

Age’s influence on sex hormone levels, regardless of sex, is known to affect body fat. While pre-menopausal women tend to store fat in their lower body, post-menopausal women and elderly men draw these hormones from their abdomen, except in cases where post-menopausal use supplements to bring their estrogen levels back to an output more closely associated with their youth. Studies have shown that low estrogen levels can lead to excessive weight gain.

Growth Hormones

The pituitary gland within your brand is where growth hormones come from. Growth hormones dictate how tall a person grows and how their bones, muscles, and metabolism develop. Research indicates that the growth hormone levels within obese people tend to be lower than average-weight individuals.

How Does the Endocrine System Affect Weight?

There are a handful of endocrine syndromes that contribute to obesity.

  • Cushing’s syndrome is often seen in obesity studies as obesity tends to overlap with common obesity symptoms. That said, true Cushing’s syndrome is rare due to requiring high levels of endogenous corticosteroids.
  • Hypothalamic disorders can malign your brain’s ability to generate hormones, including those dictating appetite. If you rapidly gain weight and notice that you have a more robust level of hunger, you may be dealing with a hypothalamic disorder.
  • Hypothyroidism, also known as underdeveloped thyroid, is one of the most common syndromes and can manifest as issues with energy levels and mental concentration. This specific condition is underdiagnosed within the general population, let alone obese patients.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (POCS) is among the most common endocrine disorders found in women. It manifests as irregular periods, a surplus of androgen, and enlarged ovaries lined with follicles. In addition to causing obesity, its effects can be amplified in obese bodies.

When Should I See an Endocrinologist for Weight Loss?

If you are concerned that your endocrine system might be interfering with your efforts to shed some pounds, that is more than sufficient cause to talk with an experienced doctor like Dr. Pedro I Troya. Even if you or someone you know is just worried about obesity and looking for answers, we at Bay Area Endocrinology Associates are here to help. Just reach out to us via our website, and we would be more than happy to answer your questions and to set up an appointment.

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