2018 June 28 by Dr. Randy
Shedding pounds and losing fat is not simple. It requires a holistic view of an individual’s needs. First, let’s dispel the most frustrating myth. Reducing calories will not result in persistent weight loss. Here’s the reason. A reduction in caloric intake gives your body the message that food is scarce. The natural response to this situation is to slow down the metabolism to conserve energy. That is exactly what you don’t want. The slower your metabolism, the harder it is to lose weight. And if you are having trouble losing weight, your metabolism is probably already slow for other reasons.
There are three components necessary to lose weight and remain fit: eat a healthy diet, increase metabolism, and develop a regular exercise program. All three of these components are intimately linked and affect each other. The bottom line is to solve the problem of a slow metabolism and maintain a healthy diet that does not encourage weight gain.
Let’s talk about metabolic issues first. The most common cause of weight gain (besides eating too many carbs) is a medical problem that slows metabolism. Hormone imbalances can contribute to a slow metabolism. The most common of these is low thyroid function. Doctors will do a blood test for thyroid function, but the most common screening tests (TSH and T4) are often normal despite a low thyroid condition. It is important to obtain a full range of thyroid function tests, especially a reverse T3 test and thyroid antibodies. Here’s the issue. T4 is converted to active T3, but it can also be converted to reverse T3, which is inactive. It does this especially when the body is under stress. High levels of reverse T3 indicate a slow metabolism with relatively low active thyroid hormone production. It’s important to get that level as low as possible. If you feel tired and gain weight easily, then low thyroid is a likely culprit, despite a doctor’s assurance that your thyroid hormone (T4) level is normal. Chronic inflammation, infection, and stress can all cause low thyroid function too, and that means a slower metabolism.
The other common metabolic problems associated with weight gain are insulin resistance and leptin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when people eat too many carbohydrates for too long a time. Carbohydrates (sugars) stimulate insulin production, and that triggers storage of sugar in fat cells for energy reserves. But when the body’s cells say they don’t need more sugar, the insulin receptors shut down. This is insulin resistance. Insulin is still produced in response to carbohydrates in the diet, and insulin levels remain high. One effect of elevated insulin levels is an increase in the size of fat cells.
The second problem is leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells that increases metabolism and decreases appetite. When the fat cell has enough potential energy storage as fat, leptin tells the brain to stop eating and to increase the use of fat stores for energy use. But as the full fat cells continue to produce leptin, the brain stops listening. That’s leptin resistance. As a result metobolism slows down and we continue to eat, both of which lead to more fat storage.
Other hormonal systems that are out of balance can also slow metabolism. Adrenal stress, adrenal fatigue, low cortisol levels, and low sex hormones can all affect metabolic rate. Understanding all of these problems can help determine an appropriate treatment program for weight loss. And all of these medical problems can be treated with specific nutritional supplements and herbs.
Taking supplements that suppress appetite and speed up metabolism can be helpful, but addressing the hormonal issues we discussed is a key factor to designing an individualized treatment plan. For example, depleted adrenal or thyroid function will respond to herbs that tonify those glands, as well as supplements that provide building blocks for those hormones. Specific nutrients can help resolve insulin and leptin resistance, including chromium, berberine, zinc, selenium and others. Treating underlying and persistent inflammatory processes with turmeric (curcumin), anti-inflammatory herbal formulas can address the causes of thyroid problems. And immune system disorders including autoimmune thyroid problems can be treated with adaptogens that balance immune function (especially medicinal mushrooms). And of course maintaining adequate vitamin D levels with vitamin D supplementation is essential.
(To be continued)